Today’s big question

Can booster jab nullify new Covid-19 threats?

Trials under way for a third vaccine shot for over-50s to eradicate danger from coronavirus variants

A third booster jab for Covid-19 could be offered to all over-50s in the autumn in an effort to drastically reduce the likelihood of another lockdown in the UK. 

The extra shot might be given alongside annual flu vaccinations to those aged over 50 and the clinically vulnerable, according to The Times.

The newspaper reports that trials of two options are under way, supervised by the chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty. Early findings have “raised government hopes” that the two approaches will “nullify any threat from new and existing variants” of Covid-19, which has already led to 150,000 deaths in the UK alone, The Times was told.

Trials under way

The first trial involves vaccines “specifically modified to tackle new variants”, reports the paper, while the second is for a third shot of one of the three jabs already in use: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, or Moderna. 

While the vaccines currently available successfully tackle the Kent variant, they offer weaker protection against other strains of the virus, such as the South African variant of the virus, says the paper. 

A third jab could give recipients “a massive amount of new antibodies” which may be strong enough to stop the infection from new variants, say scientists. Recipients are likely to be given a third shot that is different from the make they originally received, as studies have found it is likely to be “stronger” if another jab is administered. 

The Department of Health has ordered 60 million Pfizer jabs to be used as booster jabs, in preparation for the programme, which will take roughly 11 weeks to complete. 

The two methods are currently being evaluated, but “could be rolled out simultaneously if they are judged to be equally effective”, says the Times. 

Virus will ‘fade into the background’

An unnamed senior government minister said the trials were “looking really positive so far”, and brought hopes that the level of protection against Covid-19 variants will be “so high” by Christmas that the deadly illness will have “just faded away into the background like any other illness in circulation”. 

“So much so that we don’t think there will be any need to give a booster shot to younger people because transmission will have got so low,” the minister added. 

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the UK would be made “future proof” against new variants of the virus, thanks to a multimillion-pound investment in testing facilities at Porton Down in Wiltshire, announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night. 

The £29m funding boost will allow the facility to “significantly expand” the number of blood samples it can analyse for antibodies from 700 a week to 3,000, speeding up testing for possible new vaccines and booster jabs.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a former government adviser on coronavirus, told the BBC last night that the UK looks to be on a “steady course out of the pandemic” thanks to the vaccine rollout, with more than 34.6 million people in Britain having received at least a first dose.

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