The government will reportedly extend its Covid vaccine booster programme to people under the age of 50, in a bid to drive down transmission rates this winter.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to give its approval to the move on Monday, according to The Times.
Precise details of the age groups who would be offered a third jab have not been confirmed, the newspaper added, but suggested the rollout would first be extended to people in their late 40s.
Currently, only those over the age of 50 or people who are clinically vulnerable are eligible for a booster vaccine.
It comes after a top government adviser said giving booster vaccines to young people would make a “big difference” in bringing down Covid transmission in the UK during colder months.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the government’s Sage sub-committee, said expanding the booster programme to younger adults would significantly cut Covid transmission.
“I see no reason why we shouldn’t be rolling them out to younger age groups once we’ve got through the priority groups – the over 50s and the clinically vulnerable,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Our modelling – modelling of a group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – suggests that yes, it could make quite a big difference to driving transmission down to low levels.”
More than 12 million people have received a booster jab across the UK since the programme began.
The scheme aims to top up immunity among the population ahead of winter, amid concerns waning vaccine protection could lead to a surge in hospital admissions during colder months.
Boris Johnson warned on Friday the “storm clouds” of a new coronavirus wave were gathering over parts of Europe, with many countries preparing to step up restrictions due to rising cases.
The Netherlands has confirmed a three-week partial lockdown amid surging cases, Austria has imposed a lockdown on unvaccinated people, while German politicians are considering legislation that would pave the way for new measures at the same time as the country’s disease control centre is urging people to cancel or avoid large events.
Prof Ferguson said the UK is in “quite a different situation” to some its European counterparts due to a greater level of immunity among its population following months of high virus prevalence.
He said the fast rollout of booster jabs has also given the UK an advantage in the fight to control Covid.
Acknowledging however the UK is seeing a “hint of an uptick in the last few days” following weeks of declining case numbers and hospital admissions, he added: “We’ve had very high case numbers – between 30,000 and 50,000 a day – really for the last four months, since the beginning of July.
æThat has obviously had some downsides.
æIt has also paradoxically had an upside of boosting the immunity of the population compared with countries like Germany, the Netherlands and France, which have had much lower case numbers and are only now seeing an uptick.Æ
Additional reporting by agencies