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Everything you need to know about the UK’s COVID-19 booster campaign

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Britain is in the midst of a fresh COVID-19 booster campaign with 26 million people in England alone being called to receive another dose.

The so-called “autumn booster” is being administered at a time when flu cases are rising too and when a number of new omicron variants are circulating that could fuel resurgent waves of COVID infections as winter progresses.

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Here’s all you need to know about the autumn booster vaccines:

Why do you need another COVID booster?

Although the vaccines are effective, their protection against COVID-19 fades over time meaning topping up can be necessary, particularly for vulnerable people. If you have never taken a booster shot, the National Health Service advises that you take one now, and then a second booster three months after the first if you are eligible.

Am I eligible for the second COVID booster?

According to the NHS, 26 million people should come forward for the booster this autumn in England. As with previous vaccination drives, the most vulnerable were called up first from September, including care home residents. The inoculation is now being rolled out to a wider group, including people who are over 50, those who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system. Health care and social care workers and some at risk children over 5 are also being offered another shot.

Eligible people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be invited for a booster, although sometimes the criteria can vary between countries.

Any booster should be given at least three months after the last COVID-19 shot. Adults who have contracted COVID-19 or display symptoms should ideally wait 28 days before getting the booster. Children who have been infected should wait for 12 weeks before receiving a booster, unless they are at high risk of COVID-19, or live with someone with a weakened immune system, in which case the 28-day wait applies.

What is a bivalent booster?

A bivalent vaccine targets both the original Wuhan strain of COVID-19 and an earlier omicron subvariant.

How effective are bivalent boosters?

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has shown it can keep evolving with new mutations forming quicker than shots can be formulated and tested and it can be hard to predict which variant will be circulating in the future. That said, the bivalent vaccines approved by regulators worldwide have triggered good immune responses against omicron in lab studies.

However, a small study released this week found that a second booster shot of a bivalent vaccine did not increase levels of neutralizing antibodies against the dominant omicron strains more than four doses of the original vaccine did.

Most health authorities around the world say inoculation with any COVID-19 vaccine still remains the best defense against the virus.

What COVID-19 booster should I get?

In the UK, you will be offered either a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, which may be one of the original versions or an updated bivalent shot. Given that both types of vaccine offer good protection, the government advises people to get whichever shot is available as soon as possible, rather than waiting for a specific one.

Where can you get the new COVID booster in UK?

Local GP surgeries will contact patients who need a booster but it’s not necessary to wait for an invite. Eligible patients can also book an appointment online, or by phone by calling 119. Alternatively, boosters are available at walk-in centers without booking a slot in advance. Booking arrangements can vary by country.

What about the flu jab?

You might be able to have a flu vaccine at the same time as getting your Covid booster, although this is not guaranteed and the shots have to be booked separately. The NHS recommends those who are eligible for the vaccines to get both, to avoid catching COVID-19 and flu at the same time. It is safe to have both vaccines at the same time.

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