By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - A COVID-19 booster in the autumn and then annual vaccinations are very probable, Britain's vaccine deployment minister said on Sunday as countries race to administer injections in the face of new variants.
Britain has already injected over 12 million first doses of COVID-19 vaccines and is on track to meet a target to vaccinate everyone in the top most vulnerable groups by mid-February.
Among coronavirus variants currently most concerning for scientists and public health experts are the so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants, which appear to spread more swiftly than others.
"We see very much probably an annual or a booster in the autumn and then an annual (vaccination), in the way we do with flu vaccinations where you look at what variant of virus is spreading around the world," Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
AstraZeneca said on Saturday its vaccine developed with the University of Oxford appeared to offer only limited protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant of COVID-19, based on early data from a trial.
Britain reported on Sunday a further 15,845 cases and 373 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official figures.
The success of the UK's vaccine rollout, however, is spurring debate about how soon the government can ease broader lockdown restrictions, amid plans to reopen schools in England in March.
As some nations consider a vaccine passport to enable the easing of travel measures, Zahawi said Britain would not introduce such a system but people could seek proof from their doctor if needed.
"That's not how we do things in the UK. We do them by consent," he said. "We yet don't know what the impact of vaccines on transmission is and it would be discriminatory."
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Susan Fenton)