Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. The Explainer
16 November 2021updated 30 Nov 2021 1:12pm

Should I get a Covid-19 booster jab?

As the Omicron variant spreads, the government has opened up its vaccine booster program to try and avoid lockdown restrictions this Christmas.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

In response to the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the government has expanded its vaccine booster program by inviting all over-18s to receive a third jab of a Coronavirus vaccine.

The minimum time gap between an individual receiving a second dose and a “booster” shot has been halved – from a six-month wait to just three.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation also recommended to the government that children aged 12-15 should be invited to receive a second jab of a vaccine.

This comes following the discovery of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus last week, which has been labelled a variant of concern due to its “concerning” mutations and preliminary testing “suggest[ing] an increased risk of reinfection”.

What are the effects of the booster jab?

The clue is in the name: the booster jabs offer a “boost” to the body’s ability to fight off coronavirus, should it be caught – early research shows that having three doses offers 93 per cent protection against symptomatic disease.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's climate, environment and sustainability content. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

With the extra protection offered by the booster, it is expected that fewer people will need to be hospitalised over the winter period – therefore reducing pressure on an already strained NHS.

Those receiving boosters will be given either a full dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab or a half dose of the Moderna vaccine.

“If the booster programme is a success and we have very high uptake, we can massively reduce worry about hospitalisation and death this Christmas and this winter for millions of people,” said deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam.

Content from our partners
Prevent and protect – why looking after our oral health begins at home
Polling on the protocol: Westminster is a long way from Northern Ireland
How smart energy can deliver for smaller businesses

Early testing suggests that the Omicron variant has a higher reinfection rate – but experts say it will be a few weeks before we know what its true effect on vaccines will be.

Van-Tam said: “If vaccine effectiveness is reduced – as seems pretty likely, to some extent – the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and, hopefully, there will be smaller effects in preventing severe disease.

“Vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most easily while we wait for that science mist to clear.”

Should I book my booster jab?

If you are eligible for a booster jab, you should get it.

Though the initial doses of all the main vaccine candidates in the UK offer good protection against serious illness and death, there is evidence to suggest vaccine efficacy wanes over time, therefore necessitating the need for top-up booster shots.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency identified “no new safety concerns” around booster jabs. Known side-effects are similar to those of the original jabs, with cases mostly being a sore arm or mild flu-like symptoms.

Getting a booster is also quite easy: you can either wait to be contacted by the NHS to make an appointment, or you can book one online in certain places. Both England and Scotland have online booking portals; appointments for those in Northern Ireland are available in pharmacies, while people in Wales eligible for a booster have been told to wait to be contacted for an appointment.

[See also: How long does the Covid vaccine last – and is natural immunity better?]

Why is it important to book a booster jab?

Like last year, colder temperatures combined with social mixing indoors will inevitably lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases – and this winter, there are also concerns about the impact of seasonal flu.

A mass take-up of booster jabs, particularly among older and more vulnerable people, will offer greater protection against severe illness and death, therefore reducing pressure on the NHS.

If cases are low and the health service is able to deal with those who are ill, then it is unlikely that harsher coronavirus restrictions will need to be imposed on the country, highlighting the importance of boosters.

“This is a national mission,” said Javid in a statement on 15 November. “The vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones, and I urge everybody to get your jabs as soon as you can.”

Topics in this article: , , ,