Fourth Covid jabs should not be offered until there is more evidence, the head of Britain’s vaccine body has said – as he warned that giving boosters to people every six months was “not sustainable”.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said “we need to target the vulnerable” in future, rather than giving boosters to all over-12s.
Pollard said there was no point in trying to stop all infections, and that “at some point, society has to open up”.
He also suggested that “misinformation” about the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine – espoused by European leaders including Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, and Angela Merkel, former leader of Germany – was “highly likely” to have cost lives in Africa.
Omicron: ‘Worst is absolutely behind us. We just need to get through the winter’
Pollard’s comments come as England and Wales go back to work after the festive break and schools start to return, amid concerns they could be shut down by the spread of the Omicron variant.
Ministers will meet to finalise plans to keep the economy, hospitals and schools running by fast-tracking tests for up to 10 million “critical” workers through their employers.
Up to 50 per cent of staff in some frontline services, including care homes and the police, have been forced off work by Covid.
The shortages have been worsened by problems accessing lateral flow tests or getting PCR results, delaying people’s return to work.
Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, promised on Monday that supplies of Covid tests would “absolutely be there” for schools, after 45 million testing kits were ordered. They will be delivered within the first two weeks of term.
However, he faced demands from Tory MPs and parents to cut self-isolation for school children to five days, to minimise lost learning.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that Britain “has got to stick with Plan B”, rather than impose new restrictions. However, he warned that the NHS is set to face “considerable” pressures for several weeks.
It came as the Department of Health reported a further 157,758 cases on Monday, up 44.6 per cent in a week. But health chiefs and scientists suggested infections could have peaked in London, as the number of people being admitted to hospital fell by 28 per cent to 314, down from 437 last Monday.
Speaking to mark the first anniversary of the AstraZeneca jab rollout last January, Pollard said: “The worst is absolutely behind us. We just need to get through the winter.”
He wants lockdowns to be consigned to history, adding: “At some point, society has to open up. When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time.
“But that’s a decision for the policymakers, not the scientists. Our approach has to switch, to rely on the vaccines and the boosters. The greatest risk is still the unvaccinated.”
Booster vaccines should be targeted towards the vulnerable
Pollard cautioned against blindly following Israel and Germany, which have given the green light to a second set of boosters to all over-60s.
“The future must be focusing on the vulnerable and making boosters or treatments available to them to protect them,” he said.
“We know that people have strong antibodies for a few months after their third vaccination, but more data are needed to assess whether, when and how often those who are vulnerable will need additional doses.”
Vaccines can rapidly be adapted to fight new variants, but he said: “We can’t vaccinate the planet every four to six months. It’s not sustainable or affordable. In the future, we need to target the vulnerable.”
‘Misinformation risks people’s lives’
Pollard left little doubt that he believed vaccine misinformation spread by Macron and Merkel cost lives. The AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended in some countries because of concerns raised in France and Germany over its efficacy on the over-65s and the risk of blood clots.
Pollard said: “Misinformation risks people’s lives. It’s highly likely that people became seriously ill and died because of vaccine misinformation.
“Some of this misinformation came intentionally from individuals against vaccinations, and others came from the unintentional effects of comments from politicians. Let’s just say that comments made in mainland Europe affected people in Africa.”
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