People over-70 could begin getting booster shots to protect them against new coronavirus variants in September under plans for the future of the vaccine rollout.
The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said the first booster doses would go to the top four priority groups, which also includes care home staff, NHS workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
He told the Telegraph (£) this was likely to begin in September and that the government was expecting up to eight different jabs to be available by the autumn, including one protecting against three different variants in a single dose.
A number will reportedly be manufactured in the UK, which could ease the pressure on supplies amid tensions with the European Union as it faces shortages from AstraZeneca.
Asked when the booster programme would begin, Zahawi told the newspaper: “The most likely date will be September.
“[Deputy chief medical officer] Jonathan Van-Tam thinks that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, [it] would be around September.”
Ministers were facing pressure to protect the success of the vaccination programme against new variants from overseas, with discussions under way in Whitehall about expanding the travel “red list” of countries that mandate hotel quarantine on return.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the government needed to do everything possible to stop new variants reaching the UK – and move to a comprehensive hotel quarantine system now. “The UK government are yet again doing too little, too late to secure our borders against Covid – and it’s the British people that will pay the price,” he said.
Elsewhere, the government was accused by a senior Tory of failing black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and young women on hesitancy towards vaccines.
Caroline Nokes, the chairwoman of the women and equalities committee, said in a letter to Zahawi that not tackling the issue could be “devastating” for vaccine-hesitant groups as well as wider society.