COVID-19: Vaccinations and older people

Authors:
British Geriatrics Society
Date Published:
Updated 22 March 2022
Last updated: 
22 March 2022

The BGS was pleased that older people were prioritised for access to the COVID vaccine. As the booster programme continues in the UK, this page brings together current information on vaccination, including BGS statements and useful external links.

Please note: The situation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is changing rapidly and we will update this document as and when changes are made to the vaccination programmes. We will review this regularly to ensure we capture changes. However, readers are advised to check www.gov.uk/coronavirus for the latest official UK advice.

About the COVID-19 vaccination programme

The COVID-19 vaccination programme began on 8 December 2020 with the world’s first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine being administered to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan at University Hospital in Coventry. The programme initially used the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine only, but was expanded as time went on to include vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Moderna.

At the beginning, the vaccination programme prioritised those at highest risk of serious illness or death as a result of COVID infection including older people, those considered clinically extremely vulnerable and health and social care professionals. However, the programme expanded rapidly to include all adults by early summer 2021, and now includes young people aged 12 and over.

While initially people were given second doses of the vaccine two weeks after receiving the first dose, the Government made a decision to prioritise first doses of the vaccine to ensure that as many people as possible had at least some protection from COVID. The gap from first to second dose was therefore lengthened from two to 12 weeks. This decision was supported by the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers.

While the vaccination programmes have been led by the Governments of each of the four nations, each Government takes advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI). As such, the four vaccination programmes have remained broadly in step with each other with people entitled to receive the vaccine at around the same time as similarly-aged people in other parts of the UK.

Impact of the vaccination programme to date

The COVID-19 vaccination programme has been primarily led by general practice and community pharmacies and has been the largest vaccination programme rolled out in NHS history. Uptake of the vaccine has been high – as of 21 March 2022, 91.7% of the population aged over 16 had received one dose of the vaccine, 85.6% had received two doses and 67% had received a booster or third dose. In total, over 140 million doses of the vaccine have been administered. (For up-to-date statistics, see here).

Estimates suggest that as a direct result of the vaccination programme in England, over 129,400 hospitalisations were prevented in those aged 65 years and over from 13 December 2021 to 6 March 2022.1

Spring booster shots

More than two thirds of eligible adults have now received their third dose or first booster, and six months have passed since the booster programme was initially rolled out to older people and the most vulnerable.

In February 2022, the JCVI recommended a further booster around six months after the last vaccine dose for adults aged 75 and over and those living in care homes, as well as for immunocompromised groups. Spring boosters were made available to this first group in March 2022, and GPs are in the process of contacting eligible people to book their vaccines. Access to the spring booster will depend on what part of the UK people live in.

  • In England, the spring booster can be booked online at nhs.uk/covidvaccine or by calling 119.
  • In Scotland, eligible people will be contacted when it is their turn to receive the spring booster.
  • In Wales, eligible people will be contacted by their GP or Health Board when it is their turn.
  • Further details about the spring booster rollout in Northern Ireland will be available shortly.

The spring booster should be given more than three months, but ideally around six months, following the previous dose. It will be offered in most cases as half a dose of the Moderna vaccine or a full dose of the Pfizer vaccine. More information about the spring booster for over-75s and older adults living in care homes can be found here.

Those who have not yet received all recommended previous doses of the vaccine are advised to book the next dose as soon as possible.

Vaccinations in less developed countries

While the BGS is primarily concerned about the health of older people within the UK, we share concerns raised by others about the lack of progress on COVID vaccination in less developed nations. The pandemic will not be over until everyone is able to be vaccinated. We support initiatives to increase vaccination numbers across the world.
 
The BGS is among a number of healthcare organisations signed up to the #VaccinateTheWorld campaign, a UK-based campaign with a sole focus to exert pressure on the UK government to expand its efforts in supporting global equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, vaccines and supplies. You can find out more and sign the petition here.
 

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