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The U.K. will no longer recommend COVID-19 boosters for healthy people under age 50, and will discontinue free distribution of the primary two-shot series, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced Wednesday.
The policy change comes as the U.K. government shifts away from its “pandemic emergency response,” The Telegraph reported. The Daily Mail characterized the changes as a sign the country is “settl[ing] into post-pandemic life.”
The U.K.’s autumn COVID-19 booster drive for those over 50 will end Feb. 12, according to the UKHSA, along with its booster offer for 16- to 49-year-olds who are not in a clinical risk group.
The agency cited “dwindling uptake” of the primary series and booster, which up until now were available to healthy people ages 16 to 49, in its decision to end “its evergreen offer,” according to The Telegraph.
This announcement came one day after Esther McVey, a member of the UK Parliament with the Conservative Party, called for an urgent and thorough investigation into excess deaths while speaking in parliament.
British cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, who recently “truthbombed” the BBC during a live appearance telling viewers the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines pose a cardiovascular risk, welcomed the changes. He tweeted:
‘Covid – 19 booster jab offer set to end in the U.K.’
WE made this happen 🔥
But this alone is not good enough. We must help the vaccine injured & make the government, the regulator & Pharma fully accountable so this NEVER happens again https://t.co/L6wbVR6Q9u
— Dr Aseem Malhotra (@DrAseemMalhotra) January 25, 2023
Some other European countries, including Denmark, already ended their universal COVID-19 vaccination campaigns for healthy individuals.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today is meeting to discuss a new vaccination schedule wherein adults would be vaccinated once a year to “stay protected” against COVID-19.
New program still recommends boosters for ‘high-risk’ individuals
The UKHSA and the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said: “plans should be made for those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 to be offered a booster vaccination this autumn.”
They also advised, “that for a smaller group of people, such as those who are older and those who are immunosuppressed, an extra booster vaccine dose in the spring should also be planned for.”
Recommendations for the spring 2023 COVID-19 program “will be provided shortly,” they said.
People ages 5 to 49 who are in a “clinical risk group, live with an immunosuppressed person or are carers” will be able to get the boosters under the new program, which is “similar to one carried out for the annual flu vaccine,” the Daily Mail reported.
According to the Daily Mail, this means “tens of thousands of the country’s most vulnerable will have been offered eight coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2023.”
However, according to the UKHSA:
“As the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery, the JCVI has advised that the 2021 booster offer (third dose) for persons aged 16 to 49 years who are not in a clinical risk group should close in alignment with the close of the autumn 2022 booster vaccination campaign.
“In England, the closure of the autumn booster campaign and the first booster offer will be on 12 February 2023. We strongly encourage everyone who is currently eligible for a first booster and is yet to come forward to do so before the offer closes.”
“The move will mean unvaccinated healthy under-50s will soon not be able to get a COVID jab unless recommended by a medical professional,” according to The Telegraph, adding, “Health officials are hoping to move to a more targeted vaccination strategy where non-vulnerable individuals only receive a COVID jab if there is a clear clinical need.”
“The NHS will continue to operate a smaller scale vaccine offer from mid-February onwards to ensure those eligible for first and second doses can still get their jabs,” said UK Health Minister Maria Caulfield.
“The JCVI’s eligibility list could still change before the programme kicks off,” according to the Daily Mail.
The JCVI also warned that “Emergency surge vaccine responses may be required should a novel variant of concern emerge with clinically significant biological differences compared to the Omicron variant.”
COVID vaccine uptake has ‘plateaued’
According to the UKHSA, uptake of the COVID-19 booster during the autumn campaign, which began in September 2022, is 82.4% among those age 75 and over and 64.5% among those age 50 and over.
Uptake was significantly lower among younger people, the UKHSA reported:
“Following high uptake rates for the initial (third) booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine in December 2021, further uptake has been low at less than 0.1% per week since April 2022 in all eligible people under 50 years of age.”
“Similarly, uptake of primary course vaccination, which has been widely available since 2021, has plateaued in recent months across all age groups,” the UKHSA added.
Other countries already downgraded COVID vaccination campaigns
The U.K.’s new policy tracks a strategy first enacted in Europe by Denmark, in the spring of 2022.
Denmark stopped issuing universal invitations for COVID-19 vaccination on May 15, 2022, as part of “winding down” its mass vaccination campaign.
At that time, Denmark’s health officials said future COVID-19 vaccination drives would be targeted, rather than universal.
For its autumn and winter 2022-2023 booster campaign, the Danish Health Authority recommended boosters only “for people at higher risk of becoming severely ill, staff in the healthcare and elderly care sector as well as parts of the social services sector with close contact to patients at higher risk, relatives of people with severely impaired immune systems and pregnant women.”
Those “at higher risk” include “everyone aged over 50” and “some target groups aged under 50.”
Danish health officials said:
“The purpose of the vaccination programme is to prevent severe illness, hospitalisation and death. Therefore, people at the highest risk of becoming severely ill will be offered booster vaccination. The purpose of vaccination is not to prevent infection with COVID-19, and people aged under 50 are therefore currently not being offered booster vaccination.
“People aged under 50 are generally not at particularly higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19. In addition, younger people aged under 50 are well protected against becoming severely ill from COVID-19, as a very large number of them have already been vaccinated and have previously been infected with COVID-19, and there is consequently good immunity among this part of the population.”
Denmark also almost entirely ceased the primary COVID-19 vaccination series for children, stating:
“From 1 July 2022, it was no longer possible for children and adolescents aged under 18 to get the first injection and, from 1 September 2022, it was no longer possible for them to get the second injection.
“A very limited number of children at particularly higher risk of becoming severely ill will still be offered vaccination based on an individual assessment by a doctor.”
According to Danish outlet The Local, those “not eligible for Denmark’s national COVID-19 booster vaccine this autumn can still get revaccinated, but will have to cover costs themselves.”
Japan announced on Jan. 20 it will take steps to recategorize COVID-19 to the same severity level as seasonal flu.
A government panel “will also study anti-infection measures, including whether to continue recommending wearing masks indoors, and whether to change its vaccination system,” Japan’s public broadcasting outlet, NHK, reported.
FDA weighing annual COVID vaccination
A briefing document released Jan. 23 by the FDA revealed the agency wants to change U.S. COVID-19 vaccine protocols by simplifying the composition of the vaccines, the immunization schedule and decisions about how the vaccines are updated.
The briefing document proposes “simplification of [the] immunization schedule,” wherein most adults and children will be slated to receive an annual COVID-19 vaccination in order to stay “protected” against the “mutating” virus.
The document states:
“FDA expects that simplification of COVID-19 vaccine composition and annual immunization schedules may contribute to more facile vaccine deployment, fewer vaccine administration errors, and less complex communication, all potentially leading to improved vaccine coverage rates and, ultimately, to enhanced public health.”
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meets today to discuss the plan and vote on parts of it. The meeting, in progress at press time, is being streamed online.
The FDA plan has already drawn criticism, including from the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Gregory Poland, formerly a member of the agency’s expert advisory panel. Poland said the FDA should first outline “what the goal of the use of the current vaccines is” before recommending annual vaccination, CNN reported.
Poland called on the FDA to release data on the effectiveness of existing boosters against the latest Omicron subvariants. “The data that keeps getting trotted out in regards to efficacy is prior to BQ and XBB subvariants,” Poland said.
Poland noted that the FDA did not share all of its available data on bivalent boosters with the advisory committee in June 2022 — which was also the subject of a highly critical Jan. 22 Wall Street Journal editorial.
Referring to the bivalent boosters, Allysia Finley, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, wrote:
“Federal agencies took the unprecedented step of ordering vaccine makers to produce them and recommending them without data supporting their safety or efficacy.”
Finley accused vaccine makers of “deceptive advertising.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended the bivalent boosters without any clinical trial data to support the recommendation.