SCOTS most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 could be offered booster jags from September, officials have said.
New interim guidance from vaccine experts advising the UK and Scottish governments sets out the priority list for who should get a third jab if a booster programme is needed.
The plans have been drawn up to ensure the NHS is prepared for any possible booster jab campaign while officials await more data on whether a third vaccine is required to bolster protection over the winter months.
It will coincide with the rollout of flu jabs, which health officials have said will be vital this winter as they prepare for a potentially difficult influenza season.
People will be offered a single jab as a booster, so the rollout will be logistically easier for the NHS to manage.
It is not yet known whether people will be offered the same vaccine, or a different one, but advisers said “all possibilities are on the table”.
Officials will know more when they get results from the CovBoost trial, which is expected to report back in August.
The UK is the first country in the world to publish interim guidance on a Covid-19 vaccine booster campaign, though a number of other countries are considering proposals.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) interim guidance sets out two stages for the Covid-19 booster programme: The first stage will see 15 million of the most vulnerable people across the UK offered a booster including over-70s, health and care workers, older care home residents, the clinically extremely vulnerable (those who were asked to shield previously), and people who are immunocompromised.
The second stage will extend to a further 17 million people including over-50s, adults over the age of 16 who usually are offered a free NHS flu jab, those aged 16-49 in a Covid at-risk group, and people who are in regular contact with someone who is immunocompromised.
Officials have stressed that a third vaccine may not be needed but scientific advisers to the Government have said they are “taking no chances” and want to give the health service as much time as possible to plan.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chairman for the committee, said: “The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third Covid-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS ahead of winter.
“Almost all these people would also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and are strongly advised to have the flu vaccine.
“We will continue to review emerging scientific data over the next few months, including data relating to the duration of immunity from the current vaccines. Our final advice on booster vaccination may change substantially.”
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government welcomes the interim advice from the JCVI that – in order to maximise protection in those most vulnerable to serious Covid-19 – booster vaccines should be offered to certain priority groups from September.
“The committee will consider additional scientific data as it becomes available over the next few months ahead of formulating final advice. In the meantime we have been working closely with NHS boards to plan for this potential booster campaign, in line with this interim advice.
“The current Covid-19 vaccination programme continues at pace and remains on schedule to complete adult first doses ahead of target next month, and second doses in September.
“It remains vital that everyone has both doses of the vaccine for greatest protection. To make this as easy as possible, the number of drop-in clinics for everyone over the age of 18 is being increased across the country.”
Experts previously said it was too early to say whether other people not listed in Stage 1 or Stage 2 will need a Covid-19 vaccine booster this winter.