Pfizer’s new bivalent vaccine targeting the Omicron Covid variant has been added to the autumn booster campaign launching today.
General practice staff will begin vaccinating care home residents from today, incentivised by payments of up to £525 per completed care home.
From Wednesday, around seven million people who are either health and care workers, over-75 or immunosuppressed are invited to book in for their booster jab.
It comes as NHS England has indicated that vaccine supply is at its ‘strongest ever’ level.
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay has accepted new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to include the bivalent Pfizer vaccine in the rollout, following its approval by the medicines regulator on Saturday for patients aged 12 and over.
Clinical trials have showed that the booster dose triggered a strong immune response against both Omicron and the original strain.
This is the second bivalent vaccine targeting both the original virus and the Omicron variant recommended for use in the autumn campaign, with Moderna’s Omicron booster currently the main vaccine to be delivered in the programme.
Announcing the new JCVI advice, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that studies indicate that the Pfizer bivalent vaccine produces ‘a marginally higher immune response against some variants’ than Pfizer’s original ‘wild-type’ vaccine.
However, it added that the ‘clinical relevance of these small differences is uncertain’ and stressed that all the available booster vaccines ‘offer very good protection’ against severe illness from Covid.
JCVI Covid immunisation chair Professor Wei Shen Lim said: ‘It is very encouraging that more vaccines continue to become available and we now have another option to add to the vaccines already advised for the autumn booster campaign.’
Steve Barclay said it is ‘absolutely vital we are not complacent as winter approaches’.
He added: ‘I have therefore accepted the advice of the independent JCVI to add a Pfizer bivalent vaccine to our autumn Covid booster rollout.
‘Along with the Moderna bivalent vaccine, this safe and effective vaccine will target two different variants – Omicron and the original Covid strain. These innovative vaccines will broaden immunity and strengthen our defences against what remains a life-threatening virus.’
Speaking at a GP webinar last week, NHS England director of operations and delivery for the Covid vaccination programme Caroline Temmink said: ‘We are in the strongest place we’ve ever been in terms of vaccine availability and sharing that with you.’
The webinar also revealed that GPs will be incentivised to deliver ‘accelerated’ autumn Covid boosters in care homes, with payments of up to £525 per completed care home.
Covid booster vaccines will be extended to people aged 50 and over this autumn alongside other at-risk groups, following a final recommendation from the JCVI in July.
A version of this article was originally published in our sister publication Pulse.