Brits will be able to buy private Pfizer Covid jabs from chemists as early as next month, if the drug giant gets its way.
Throughout the pandemic, jabs have only been available on the NHS.
Today, however, the UK’s medicines regulator gave the green light to Pfizer’s mRNA Omicron jab being sold on the high street.
Pfizer has not yet revealed how much it will charge per dose, but pharmacists are already gearing up to start offering a rival jab for around £45. Chains will set their own prices, like with flu jabs.
The pharmaceutical giant is in talks with major pharmacy chains, such as Boots, to sell the vaccine to people who cannot get one on the NHS.
Pfizer has not yet revealed how much it will charge per dose, but pharmacists are already gearing up to start offering a rival jab for around £45. Chains will set their own prices, like with flu jabs
Uptake for the autumn booster roll-out stood at around 68.8 per cent (pictured). As of December 2023 7.8million people had received a jab under the programme
It comes as health officials this week indicated eligibility for the NHS drive will likely be slimmed down to save money.
Experts have long called for Covid vaccines to be sold privately ever since the threat of the virus began to fade.
Pfizer was one of the major winners of the pandemic. While lives and businesses crumbled amid lockdowns and disruptions to life during Covid, the New York City-based firm became a household name.
During the height of the pandemic, everyone was eligible to get jabbed against the virus.
Officials were desperate to build-up immunity in the population, effectively creating a ‘wall’ that kept Covid at bay and allowed the country to embark on post-lockdown life.
Yet over the past few autumn and spring booster roll-outs, jabs have been restricted to at-risk Brits, such as care home residents, over-65s and frontline NHS workers.
As such, millions have not had a booster jab since late 2021.
The upcoming spring roll-out is expected to be open to an even smaller cohort, with millions aged 65-74 no longer likely to be eligible.
Experts say offering Covid vaccines privately — like what happens with the flu every winter — is a no-brainer. Even one of the Government’s own vaccine advisory panel said it was a ‘good idea’ ahead of the autumn 2023 roll-out.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which polices the safety of drugs used in Britain, today granted approval for providers outside of the NHS to thaw and dish out Pfizer’s Omicron XBB.1.5 vaccine, which must be kept at temperatures of -80C before being thawed.
Once thawed, doses must be used within a tight time-frame or they are wasted.
Pfizer’s jab is attractive to non-NHS providers because it can come in a single-dose vial, meaning pharmacies don’t have to get several shots ready at once.
It uses the same formulation the regulator approved in September. Anyone over the age of 12 can get it.
Pfizer said it will start selling to pharmacies and private health providers in England, Scotland and Wales from March.
Dr Gillian Ellsbury, the company’s primary care medical director, said: ‘As we move from a pandemic to an endemic state, we need to ensure we remain ready to respond to this constantly evolving and unpredictable virus.
‘Vaccines remain an important pillar in helping to prevent serious illness or hospitalisation as a result of Covid.
‘By enabling the wider availability of the vaccine we are facilitating choice and access for those that are not eligible to receive it through the NHS programme but want the option of a Covid vaccine.’
Last week, Pharmadoctor, a clinical service provider, which works with more than 8,000 pharmacies across the UK, announced it would be offering private Covid vaccines from April 1 for as little as £45.
Supplies will be of the Novavax vaccine.
Moderna has already publicly said it is seeking to offer its jab privately.
A 2022 study led by academics at Imperial College London suggests almost 20million lives were saved by Covid vaccines in the first year since countries began rolling out the jabs, the majority in wealthy nations
Ministers paid around £20 per dose to Pfizer during the height of the pandemic for its jabs. The company hasn’t yet revealed what it will charge privately.
But in August Moderna said it expects to quadruple its own price when the jabs are offered privately.
It comes as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises the Government on vaccination — this week indicated an NHS 2024 autumn booster programme would likely be ‘smaller’ than previous years.
The JCVI said Covid is now a ‘relatively mild disease’ for the vast majority of people.
High population immunity now ‘permits the development of a more targeted programme’ aimed at people who are most likely to become seriously ill from the disease.
While the ‘greatest threat’ from Covid comes in winter — both in terms of risk of infection and pressure in the NHS — the virus ‘continues to occur throughout the year’, the JCVI acknowledged.
It would continue to review ‘optimal’ vaccination timings and frequency beyond spring 2024, it added.
The Government also said further advice on the autumn programme is expected ‘in due course’.
But uptake for the autumn booster roll-out has been sluggish, standing at around 68.8 per cent.
Millions have still never even had one jab.
Health officials, however, remain concerned over the spread of the virus after an uptick in cases in January blamed on a super-infectious variant called Juno.