As the anniversary of the second year with Covid came and went, the world is still dealing with the virus that has so markedly changed our lives. The knock-on effects, the distrust in governments, and the sheer loss has been monumental. As concerns grow over vaccine protection waning, the UK government and NHS have started a Spring Booster programme aimed at the extremely vulnerable. Here’s what you need to know about the 2022 Covid spring booster vaccine for the over 75s and immunosuppressed.
Why Is There A Need For A Spring Covid Booster Vaccine?
The vaccination programme in the UK has been reasonably successful, at least compared to the utter shambles of almost everything else our government has done throughout the pandemic. Worldwide, different vaccines have been used to protect the public and they’ve doubtlessly saved many lives. Unfortunately nothing is perfect and these jabs were rolled out as quickly as possible, so they’re not as effective as they perhaps could have been if scientists had years to improve them. Real world data is now showing that effectiveness wanes over time, with increasing numbers of individuals, especially the elderly and vulnerable, falling seriously ill once again despite prior vaccination. It’s now thought that within 6 months of the third dose, people are already losing a degree of protection that puts them at greater risk.
After over two years of Covid19 changing our lives and many of us practically putting our lives on hold, there’s still no sign of the virus disappearing. The good news is that vaccines have given us an edge by offering protection across the world, and it’s also heartening to hear that Omicron appears less potentially dangerous than the previous variants. Many scientists hope that as the virus continues to mutate, it’ll continue to get less vicious, but the truth is nobody really knows. It’s possible a new variant could prove to be more dangerous. The reality right now is that infections are soaring as the current variant is highly contagious and easily transmissible, and hospitalisations and deaths are likewise worryingly on the up.
Thus far in the UK, the wider population have typically been offered first and second jabs, followed by a winter booster in 2021. They’ll likely be offered another booster later this year for winter 2022. The vulnerable, being the elderly, immunocompromised and at-risk with underlying conditions, have been invited for the first, second and third primary jabs, as the first booster was considered a requirement of original treatment to get effective protection. This new vaccination is a spring booster for only the most at risk as deemed eligible by the government and NHS, with invitations starting to be sent out fro mid-March 2022 onwards.
The spring booster is hoped to top up the protection for those over 75 and those with a weakened immune system to help keep them safe over the summer. Many individuals who’ve been cautious throughout the pandemic had hoped to start living “normally” and getting back to life, but seeing the hospitalisations and deaths increasing, and knowing vaccines don’t equate to guaranteed protection, means there will be people still shielding or being particularly careful, still putting their lives on hold.
What Vaccine Brands Are Being Given?
The spring 2022 Booster brands of choice by the NHS are Pfizer (full dose) or Moderna (half dose).
Who Is Eligible For A Spring Covid Booster In The UK?
Please note this post is about the UK generally and the guidelines provided by the English government, headed by Boris Johnson. Keep in mind that all nations, including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own policies and procedures in place and may differ slightly from what is here.
According to the English government, the Spring Booster is primarily for people aged 75 and older, those in care homes for older people, and those age 12 and over with a weakened immune system.
Unlike the original booster offered towards the latter part of 2021, the Spring Booster is more restricted in terms of eligibility.
Firstly, with the age requirement being set at 75 and above, which is higher than the 50 years cut-off for the fourth jab in the US.
Secondly, there’s no mention of carers, frontline staff in medical settings or NHS staff.
Thirdly, instead of the at-risk groups with underlying conditions being eligible, the current wording is simply “those with weakened immune systems”.
An NHS CCG website states that the ‘weakened immune system’ category here “includes those with underlying health conditions such as chronic leukaemia or lymphoma, and those who have had immunosuppressive treatment following an organ transplant or have had radiotherapy or chemotherapy.”
As a result, the spring 2022 Booster is predominantly for “those at extremely high risk”. It is to be given at least 6 months after receiving the last vaccine dose and is to help reduce the risk of Covid causing severe illness during the summer.
If you have Covid19 when your Booster is due, the government advises you should wait 4 weeks after infection before vaccination.
So what about those who aren’t eligible, including individuals with underlying conditions putting them at greater risk?
What About Those Who Aren’t Eligible?
All of those who are more vulnerable for any reason, such a chronic illness or learning disability or other underlying condition, may be wondering whether they’re eligible or not. Are people with other underlying conditions eligible? It certainly doesn’t sound like it, not unless the condition or your treatment suppresses your immune system. So why aren’t those who had the original Booster as a third primary dose also eligible for this one?
One theory (my theory) is that the government and NHS are cutting costs as they brush Covid under the carpet. The problem is that merely wishing it away doesn’t mean Covid is no longer a problem, especially as hospitalisations and deaths continue to rise in the UK and elsewhere globally. Individuals are dependent on the government’s say so here because vaccinations can’t be bought over the counter.
However, it might not be that black and white in terms of eligibility.
My mother had a heart attack recently. During an appointment with a cardiac nurse, she asked if my mum was up to date with all her vaccines. She said yes, and I dropped in a query about whether she’s actually eligible for the Spring Booster. The nurse was positive she would be as she’s in the high risk category with a serious heart condition (atherosclerosis, blood clot and heart failure). The nurse said she’ll be contacted in due course to book for her booster. I wasn’t so sure, not based on what the government and NHS have been telling us.
I’m a bit stumped, because heart damage is not the same as being immunocompromised. I asked another doctor about eligibility and they actually didn’t know, being rather confused themselves as to what happens with all those at greater risk with non-immune issues whose last vaccine will already be wearing out.
I called 119 to ask what those with underlying conditions in the general at-risk group are to do, hoping I could clarify the matter in this post for those needing an answer. Are the at-risk eligible for the spring booster, even if their conditions are not related to a weakened immune system? After going through 8 menu options and waiting a very long time for the advisor to enquire, the answer was… they don’t know. I confirmed, “so there is no clarification from the government or NHS about who is actually eligible for the spring booster?”. I was told no, they don’t know. The best he could suggest was to wait to see if you receive a letter or hope that in the coming weeks there is more information given as to who will be allowed to receive it.
We’re told not to enquire about our vaccines, not to ask our GP practice questions and basically just to wait. At least this time we can be proactive in booking an appointment before the 6 month mark rolls around, but the eligibility still remains as clear as mud.
In a nutshell, the question remains to be adequately answered.
This is not official advice, just my thoughts – If you have a medical appointment coming up, perhaps ask them for their understanding of the situation. You can wait to see if you receive a letter, and hope that the NHS provides further guidelines on eligibility soon. You could alternatively ask your doctor to write a letter that you could show the vaccine centre when you arrive. The best bet is probably to gather any evidence you have of the condition that puts you at greater risk, and hope for the best on Booster day. It’s not very reassuring, especially for those having to travel and aren’t well to begin with.
How Can You Book Your Spring Covid Booster?
There are a few ways to book Covid Booster vaccinations. Eligible individuals should be contacted six months after their last vaccination. However, another difference with the spring booster is that it appears you can go online to book prior to this.
As per the government website : “You may be offered appointment dates from 3 months (91 days) after your last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But try to book an appointment around 6 months after your last dose to get the best protection from your spring booster.”
Essentially this means people can have more flexibility here with their needs and requirements. You could book earlier to get a slot that suits rather than wait far beyond the 6 months then face a delay with no availability as some had to previously.
The routes for getting your spring booster are as follows :
- Wait to be contacted by the NHS, either by letter from the vaccination service or through their GP practice
- Visit the NHS vaccine booking website. The quickest way is to input your NHS number, which should be on the top of any medical appointment letters
- Call 119 to book – Be prepared for a number of menu options and a potentially lengthy wait
Booking Your Spring Booster Online
When you book via the booking service website, it’ll ask you which dose you are trying to book: a booster for someone age 75+, a booster for someone with a weakened immune system, or “not trying to book either of those doses”. If you choose the third option, it’ll simply say you can’t book the vaccine.
High Risk Individuals : Guide To Booking Your Booster Online
> If you select to book as someone with a weakened immune system online, the next page tells you the eligibility criteria. It’s very wishy-washy, simply saying that you need to have a “weakened immune system” currently, or at the time your 1st or 2nd vaccine dose was given.
> It goes on to say that someone at the vaccination site will talk to you and check your evidence to ensure you’re eligible. You’ll need to take evidence that you meet the criteria with you to your booster jab, ie. of having a weakened immune system.
Examples of “evidence” for the spring booster include:
- A letter from your GP or hospital specialist asking you to get a booster for people with weakened immune systems.
- A medical letter that describes your condition or the treatment you’re on that causes you to have a weakened immune system.
- If your medication is what causes you to have a weakened immune system, such as is the case with the immunosuppressant Methotrexate, you could take your prescription paper or your medication box with your name and date of it having been prescribed visible.
> Below that is a small get-out clause : “If you think you’re eligible but you do not have a suitable letter, prescription or medicine box, you may still be able to receive your vaccination.” That doesn’t really tell us much, other than that we could book online and take our chances turning up, not knowing whether we’ll be turned away or not.
> After the eligibility guidance page, you’ll be told if you’re now able to book, which most likely will be the case. That just doesn’t mean you’re actually eligible as your eligibility will be decided on your evidence when you arrive on site.
> Next, enter your postcode to find the nearest centres. You can specify any accessibility needs, such as car parking, Braille, wheelchair access or sign language.
> It’ll then list the available centres. Choose one to book your slot.
I’ve found that the centres available this time around are very restricted. There was nothing in my town at all, and driving to the next city would mean centres without any parking, which isn’t very helpful. Hopefully over the next few weeks more centres will pop up.
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Arguments over efficacy aside, the elderly and immunosuppressed may be reassured to know they can get a vaccine top-up to help protect them over the coming months as cases continue to rise.
Unfortunately, the scheme isn’t clear and individuals with underlying conditions that put them at risk may need to wait to see if they’re contacted or hope the UK government and NHS clarify the spring booster vaccination eligibility criteria sooner rather than later.
You can find out more in the Government’s Guide to the Spring Booster 2022.
Related Reading :
- Immunosuppressed & The Covid Vaccine – Where Can You Get An Antibody Test In The UK?
- What Covid19 Treatments Are Currently Available?
- Coronavirus Vaccination – What To Expect & My Experience
- Is The Covid19 Pandemic Increasing Your Stress Levels?