UK approves COVID-19 boosters but final decision on programme still pending

·2-min read
Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Blackburn

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's medical regulator on Thursday gave the go-ahead for Pfizer and AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to be used as booster shots, but said any decision to proceed with a booster programme was for others to make.

Britain's Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is discussing whether booster shots for the elderly and vulnerable are needed, with planning underway for a booster programme that could begin this month.

The final decision on whether there should be booster shots is for the government, but the regulator's decision clears one hurdle along that path.

"I am pleased to confirm that the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca can be used as safe and effective booster doses," said June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

"It will now be for the (JCVI) to advise on whether booster jabs will be given."

Whether booster vaccinations are needed is an open question, especially as the likes of Britain and the United States are planning third doses when COVID continues to kill unvaccinated people around the world.

Pfizer has said that it believes a third shot of vaccine will be needed to maintain protection, although executives at AstraZeneca, who are not making a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, have stressed the need to wait for evidence and not pursue booster programmes that are not needed.

Earlier on Thursday, JCVI member Adam Finn said that it wasn't clear that protection was waning against severe disease, and that a mistimed booster programme might cause more problems.

"Getting the timing right is one of several things that we need to get right. You could conceivably run into a position where you're immunising a lot of people when they don't actually need to be," he told BBC radio.

"(Then) if the vaccines do wane, then they will wane earlier than they would have done if you'd immunised them when they did need (a booster)."

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by William James)

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