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The UK's health service will open up for over-40s to book in their COVID-19 booster vaccine dose from Monday, as the UK government warned top-up doses were important to prevent an infection spike and winter lockdowns currently being faced by many European countries.
The National Health Service (NHS) said on Sunday that following new advice from the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) this week, the vaccination programme has been expanded, with over 40s eligible for boosters and people aged 16 and 17 able to book a second COVID-19 vaccine jab.
Those eligible for a booster can book an appointment in advance five months after their second dose to be vaccinated as soon as they reach the six-month mark, so far being offered to those aged over 50 and in medically vulnerable groups.
"Getting your COVID-19 booster vaccine is the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this winter and will help reduce the pressure on the NHS," said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
"While the government is continuing to monitor a wide range of data to ensure the country remains protected, we have very sadly seen a surge in cases in parts of Europe. The most important thing we can do to stop a similar rise in this country is getting the jab so please get your vaccines as soon as you can so we can keep the virus at bay," he said.
New data from the first real-world study on the effectiveness of booster vaccines by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows top-up jabs boost protection back up to over 90 per cent against symptomatic COVID-19 in adults aged over 50.
The findings reveal that two weeks after receiving a booster dose, protection against symptomatic infection in adults aged 50 years and over was 93.1 per cent in those with Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being administered in India as Covishield as their primary course and 94.0 per cent for Pfizer/BioNTech.
Following a rise in cases and a return of lockdown restrictions in Europe, those eligible for a booster have been urged by the NHS to take up the offer as soon as possible.
"Please get your boosters when eligible, and get your first and second doses if you haven't already, to secure vital protection during the winter to keep you and your loved ones safe," said UK Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup.
According to the NHS, a total of 14 million people in the UK have already received their booster vaccines, and more than 50 million first doses (88.2 per cent) and 46 million second doses (80.2 per cent) have been administered across the country.
The NHS said the booster programme is designed to top up this waning immunity. Last month, clinical guidance was updated to enable boosters to be given slightly earlier to those at highest risk, where this makes operational sense to do so. This includes care home residents who may have received their second doses at different times to be vaccinated in the same session, as long as it has been five months since their second dose.
Dr Emily Lawson, head of the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, said: In the run-up to the festive period and what we know will be a challenging winter, I would encourage everyone who is eligible and invited to take up the offer of a life-saving booster as soon as possible to protect yourself and those around you.
Vaccine confidence in the UK remains high, with data from the Office for National Statistics showing nearly all (94 per cent) of those aged 50 to 69 say they would be likely to get their COVID-19 booster if offered, with the figure rising to 98 per cent for those over 70.
Meanwhile, daily coronavirus infection figures remain high, with 40,941 COVID cases and 150 deaths recorded on Saturday.