The UK has axed free Covid jabs for 13 million 50–64-year-olds this autumn. That’s despite the fact EU countries such as Germany and Italy are preparing to give every citizen aged 60 or over a top-up. As Covid cases climb, a leading testing expert says the Government should at least have ensured everyone aged 50+ could buy a pharmacy jab.
The government’s Covid top-up vaccinations will finally get underway for everyone aged 65 and over on 7 October. That’s almost a month later than last year, when boosters started on 12 September. However, a huge 13 million people who had a free jab last year no longer qualify, as the government has ditched top-ups for most 50–64-year-olds. A leading testing expert says the government’s myopic decision will leave the middle-aged to cope with fast-dwindling antibody reserves in the face of climbing cases and new variants.
Leading testing expert, Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: The government’s decision to exclude the majority of 50–64-year-olds from the clinical risk group this autumn is questionable. Our European neighbours such as Germany, Italy and Holland are at least giving boosters to everyone aged 60 and over. If the UK had opted to follow suit, that would have ensured almost 4 million more people would be eligible for a top-up.
According to the Zoe Health Study, as antibodies tumble, we are already seeing Covid cases soar from a low of 606,750 on 4 July to 956,879 on 23 August. Zoe estimates the UK is now experiencing 78,155 new cases a day. A new variant is believed to be partly responsible for rising cases. EG.5.1, known as Eris in the US, is responsible for 1-in-7 new cases, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Though we expect cases to wax and wane with different strains, a population-wide reduction in antibodies would compound this problem and potentially result in the loss of herd immunity.
With an early start to Covid’s return looking increasingly likely this year, plus the axing of free flu jabs for 50–64-year-olds, the NHS will face a very challenging winter.
As things stand, a private vaccine is reportedly possible next year, but unlikely to be available in time for this year’s crucial autumn booster. The Times reports a UKHSA spokesperson saying: “We’d welcome such an innovation in the UK.” So why have there been no earlier moves to relieve anticipated pressure on the NHS this winter?
Part of the problem could be the thorny issue of price. While Brits under 65 can opt to have a private flu jab for less than £20 from most pharmacies, “The Guardian” reports that in the US, Moderna expects private Covid jabs to sell for around $130 – that’s £102. Pfizer has suggested a similar estimate.
If a private Covid jab were to cost a similar amount here in the UK, it’s possible that the government hastily backed off openly empowering suppliers to go ahead. That could have fueled accusations of a two-tier health care service. If that was the case, the government could consider subsidies for those people unable to afford a jab.
Perhaps uniquely, the Covid vaccine is not about individual protection as much as it’s about group protection. It succeeds by increasing the level of immunity across the community, but it won’t prevent everyone who is jabbed from ever catching Covid. Having said that, it is likely to lessen an individual’s chances of developing more severe symptoms or long Covid.
If anyone is concerned about their current level of Covid antibodies, the new generation Covid antibody blood test available from London Medical Laboratory is highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out. This test can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer it across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores.