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U.K. experts panel recommends COVID-19 booster shots for all over 50

Woman receiving COVID-19 vaccination
A woman flashes the thumbs-up sign upon receiving her COVID-19 shot in London.
(Frank Augstein / Associated Press)

An expert advisory panel recommended Tuesday that the British government offer a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to everyone over 50 to boost protection from the disease this winter.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization’s recommendation came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to announce the government’s new plan for combating the pandemic. The World Health Organization has asked wealthy nations to delay booster shots until every country has vaccinated at least 40% of its population.

The JCVI said booster shots were needed to ensure that vulnerable people are protected against COVID-19, because studies have shown that the immunity conferred by vaccines weakens over time. The panel recommended that people over 50 get a booster shot six months after they received their second dose of vaccine.

The move comes despite appeals from the WHO, which has urged rich countries with large supplies of COVID-19 vaccines to refrain from offering booster shots through the end of the year and make the doses available for poorer countries.

The Biden administration says it will offer booster shots to many people who are already fully inoculated against COVID-19. We answer your questions.

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appealed last week for restraint, saying he couldn’t stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers.

Israel has been providing third doses to a wide range of people who already received a full two-dose regimen months earlier. U.S. health officials are continuing to assess the science and usefulness of boosters for the general population; the Biden administration has already proposed boosters to vulnerable people.

WHO officials insist that the scientific justification for boosters remains unclear.

Sarah Gilbert, an Oxford University professor who helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper last week that immunity from the authorized COVID-19 vaccines was holding up well — even against the more transmissible Delta variant. While the elderly and those who are immune-compromised may need boosters, the standard two-dose regimen provides lasting protection for most people, she said.


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