At the start of the pandemic, vaccination offered you the best protection from getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, and enabled society to function without strict lockdowns.
When the vaccine was well-matched to the circulating virus, as it was early in the vaccine roll out, getting vaccinated helped to protect yourself, as well as others who could not get vaccinated, because it reduced your risk of spreading the virus.
The emergence of new variants means that the current vaccines are not as well-matched. But they are still good at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19. They are less protective against mild infection.
Now that most people have either been vaccinated, or have had COVID-19, the risk of severe illness has receded for most of us. Vaccination is now best targeted to people in the population who have frailty, such as the very elderly, or those with other health conditions.
This is because COVID-19 is now more like seasonal influenza, which acts as a co-factor in hospital admission or death and is largely restricted to those in vulnerable groups. Seasonal influenza is far less likely to cause severe illness on its own in healthy individuals.
Because none of the approved COVID 19 vaccines contain live virus, they are suitable for the large majority of people. A few people with known, specific vaccine-related allergies may not be able to get vaccinated.
If you are eligible for vaccination, including any booster doses, you are recommended to have them, even if you have already had COVID-19, as vaccination offers the best defence against serious infection with the virus.
Children and young people have a very low risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 disease compared with adults.
When vaccine programmes were being rolled out, children were offered vaccination to prevent rare episodes of severe disease and death. Today with many children vaccinated, and most having already developed some immunity from infection, the additional benefits of further vaccine doses are more limited.
In the UK, all children aged five and over, on and before 31 August 2022, were offered a 1st and 2nd dose of the vaccine. People over the age of 16, and some 12 to 15 year olds, were also offered a booster. These programmes have now ended.
Currently, children aged five and over are eligible for a 1st and 2nd dose of the vaccine if they are at high risk due to a health condition or if they have a weakened immune system, or if they are living with someone with a weakened immune system. Already-vaccinated children aged five and over, who are immunosuppressed, are eligible for the Spring 2023 booster.
You will need to book your child an appointment online via the NHS appointment booking service, or find a walk-in clinic. You may also be contacted by your GP.
From June 2023 very young children in the UK, aged six months to four years of age who are in a clinically vulnerable group, will be offered two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
This vaccine was first authorised for use in this very young age group by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in December 2022.
Following a review of the available evidence, the government’s advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, recommended its use for clinically vulnerable children only in April 2023.
If your child is in a clinically vulnerable group, and eligible for these vaccinations, you will be contacted directly by the NHS.
The overall aim of vaccination programmes, including COVID-19 vaccination, is to protect the most vulnerable populations. The COVID-19 vaccines are found to be effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalisation, including those aged over 65 and those with other medical conditions.
In the UK vaccination priority list, the elderly populations are the first groups recommended for vaccination. See the priority list here.
An early monitoring report from Public Health England shows that between December 2020 - February 2021 when vaccinations for the elderly age group were initiated, weekly hospitalisations fell by at least 60% in those aged over 65.
Similar trends are seen in the weekly rate of deaths for this age group in the same period. See the latest report here.
Most experts think some individuals will need booster doses in future, particularly those who are elderly or with certain underlying health conditions. This is something that scientists and governments are closely monitoring. So far the seasonality of the virus is unpredictable, so it is unclear when or how often to boost. This will become clearer the longer the virus is around.
Current studies show that booster doses increase immune responses against COVID-19, including new variants, and provide the best defence against the virus.
While there is potential benefit for everyone in receiving booster doses because they will reduce the risk of infection, for most previously-vaccinated people the virus causes only a mild illness, and so governments have to balance the benefits with the cost of the vaccine.
Most governments are expected to limit boosters to vulnerable individuals who will become more seriously unwell if they develop infection and are likely to be hospitalised or die.