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Give booster jabs to younger groups to beat waning immunity, government scientist urges

Booster vaccines should be given to younger groups to help beat waning immunity, a government scientist has said. 

Professor John Edmunds, who sits on both the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that although the vaccines work well, the protection they offer is declining. 

He said to combat this, the booster roll-out among the older population needs to happen quickly and then the third dose should be offered to those under 50. 

Prof Edmunds told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme: "Vaccines still work very well. But the level of protection that they're affording us is falling somewhat and it looks like it's falling quicker in the most at risk groups, the elderly, and so on. 

"And so I think it's right that they are offered a booster dose as fast as possible. I think that's really important that we vaccinate our older population as fast as we can. 

"And I think it also it would help if we vaccinate, you know, offered booster doses in time to to younger individuals as well." 

The booster jabs are currently available on the NHS for people most at risk from Covid-19 who have had a second dose of a vaccine at least six months ago.

This includes:

  1. People aged 50 and over
  2. People who live and work in care homes
  3. Frontline health and social care workers
  4. People aged 16 and over with a health condition that puts them at high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19
  5. People aged 16 and over who are a main carer for someone at high risk from Covid-19
  6. People aged 16 and over who live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)

People who are pregnant and in 1 of the eligible groups can also get a booster dose.

Prof Edmunds said the models suggest cases will level off or even fall in the coming weeks. 

He added: "That's because the epidemic this over the last few months has been really driven by huge numbers of cases and children. I mean, that really huge numbers of cases and children. 

"And that will eventually lead to high levels of immunity and children and it may be that we're achieving that now or achieving I think is the wrong word. 

"But it might be that we're getting to high levels of immunity in children through this really high rates of infection we've had, and it might start to level off.

"I should also say the census of the models is that we may well get an increase again later due to different things - due to waning immunity, and a return to normal normality."

Vaccine passports and mask mandates in neighbouring EU countries could be the reason the cases aren't climbing at the same rate there when compared with the UK, Prof Edmunds said. 

Asked if he wanted to see the UK follow suit, he said: "We are thinking that cases may come down from this very high peak now. 

"But if we introduced them, it would come down that cases would likely come down quicker, of course."