People who are over 16 and living with adults who have weakened immune systems should be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, the Government has been told.
Making its recommendation, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that adults with immunosuppression are more likely to have poor outcomes from Covid and may respond less well to vaccines.
The JCVI pointed to data from Public Health England’s (PHE) SIREN study, which suggests that vaccinating non-immunosuppressed people with either AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech can reduce the risk of asymptomatic infection.
‘It can be inferred that a reduction in asymptomatic infection would also mean a reduction in the chance of transmission of SARS-CoV-2,’ the letter said.
Household contacts considered as a priority would be those over 16 who share living accommodation with adults who are immunosuppressed – such as those living with blood cancer, HIV or who are receiving immunosuppressive treatment like chemotherapy.
The JCVI added that a ‘reasonable definition’ of household contacts would be people who expect to share accommodation ‘on most days’ and where close contact will be unavoidable.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI’s chair of Covid-19 immunisation, said: ‘The vaccination programme has so far seen high vaccine uptake and very encouraging results on infection rates, hospitalisations and mortality. Yet we know that the vaccine isn’t as effective in those who are immunosuppressed. Our latest advice will help reduce the risk of infection in those who may not be able to fully benefit from being vaccinated themselves.’
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: ‘Our surveillance systems and research studies are showing that the Covid-19 vaccines can reduce asymptomatic infection and limit transmission of the virus. By vaccinating those who live with adults who are immunosuppressed, we can further help protect vulnerable people.’
The JCVI also said there is still no data on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines in children.
‘Given this we do not currently advise vaccination of household contacts of immunosuppressed children, or household contacts of immunosuppressed adults who are themselves children,’ the letter said.
Last month, the Government announced that phase two of the vaccination programme is due to continue in age order, starting with people aged 40-49, in line with JCVI advice.