Johnson & Johnson‘s Covid vaccine should be rolled out urgently, according to top scientists who believe it may prove a game-changer in No10’s efforts to persuade hesitant adults to get jabbed.
Analysis of NHS data suggests up to 2million over-50s are still yet to come forward for their first dose, despite being eligible since March.
Experts claim offering them the convenience of J&J’s vaccine, which was approved for use in Britain in May, could boost uptake rates because it only requires a single jab. Only one dose of it is needed for Brits to obtain a Covid passport, too.
Research estimates that 10 per cent of Brits avoiding the Covid jab do so out of a phobia of needles, meaning in theory that about 200,000 unvaccinated over-50s may be avoiding the vaccine for this reason.
Experts say although the Johnson & Johnson jab still requires a needle, the prospect of only facing a single dose, rather than the usual two, could convince some people to take the plunge.
The call comes amid warnings of a difficult winter ahead, with rising Covid cases and deaths combined with slow rollout of the Covid booster jab program.
While most over 50s have got both their Covid vaccines, about 2million, or roughly one in 10 over 50s in England are completely unvaccinated as the country heads towards winter
Just 4.5 out of the 9.3million eligible people in England (47 per cent), the majority in the over 50s, have received their top-up doses to date, with patients saying they are struggling to find out where to get the shots
Some experts hope that offering the unvaccinated over 50s the single dose Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine might inspire some, who may have a fear of needles, to come forward.
More than five million booster doses delivered in UK
An estimated 5.3 million booster doses of Covid vaccine have been delivered in the UK, new figures show.
It is the first time data on boosters has been reported by all four nations.
A total of 4,524,517 doses have been delivered in England, along with 429,801 in Scotland, 322,591 in Wales and 43,536 in Northern Ireland.
It means around one in nine people in the UK who have received a first and second dose of vaccine are likely to have also received a booster.
The figures have been published by NHS England, Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Northern Ireland Department of Health.
The total for England includes a small number of third primary doses of vaccine, NHS England said.
Wales currently leads the other nations in the proportion of double-jabbed people who have also received a booster, at 14.4 per cent.
The equivalent proportion for England is 11.9 per cent, with 11.1 per cent for Scotland and 3.5 per cent for Northern Ireland.
A breakdown by age group suggests more than half of double-jabbed people aged 80 and over in England have now had a booster (53.6 per cent), compared with just under a half (47.2 per cent) in Wales.
Some 39.8 per cent of eligible 75 to 79-year-olds in England have also had a booster, along with 30.6 per cent in Wales.
Data on booster take-up among age groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland is not yet available.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the milestone as ‘fantastic’, adding: ‘It’s vital that you take up your booster jab when you’re offered it this winter.’
Dr Nikki Kanani, deputy lead for the NHS vaccination programme, said: ‘The NHS Covid vaccination programme continues to accelerate at speed and it is fantastic that in just one month, more than five million booster doses have been delivered across the UK, including over 4.5million in England alone.
‘Hundreds of thousands of people continue to book in for their vital boosters every day, including almost half a million on Wednesday and Thursday this week, and with millions more set to receive invites next week, I would urge everyone to book in as soon as possible to get crucial protection this winter.
‘The booster is not simply a nice to have, it will provide important extra protection as we go into the winter period.
‘So if you have been invited or a family or friend has been invited, please do come forward.’
Just 4.5 out of the 9.3million eligible people in England (47 per cent), the majority in the over 50s, have received their top-up doses to date, with patients saying they are struggling to find out where to get the shots.
Ministers were relying on the success of the the booster programme successful rollout of jabs to 12-15-year-olds and boosters to the over-50s, healthcare staff and the most vulnerable to quell the impact of another wave.
But it has put together a ‘Plan B’ that would see the return of face coverings and work from home guidance if the NHS faces unsustainable pressure.
Experts have now warned that lagging rates of vaccine uptake in the over-50s could be a problem in itself.
Earlier this month, a MailOnline analysis revealed that 1.9million over 50s had yet to receive any form of the Covid vaccine, meaning they could be unprotected from the virus as the weather starts to get colder and people increasingly stay indoors.
This figure includes up to 127,288 over-80s who are considered to be highly vulnerable to the virus on the basis of their age. The over 80s were first offered the Covid vaccine last December.
Dr Al Edwards, Associate Professor in biomedical technology at University of Reading’s School of Pharmacy, said offering the unvaccinated over 50s the J&J jab could convince them to come forward.
‘Offering convenient services can be incredibly effective,’ he said.
‘Having one dose, instead of having one, and then having to book another one, that could help definitely.’
Considering the recent rise in Covid cases and the the risks the virus presents to the over 50s, Dr Edwards said it was critical to get as many of these people vaccinated as possible in the coming weeks.
‘Anything we can do to get even one dose into people’s arms will make a massive difference,’ he said.
‘Multiple doses, in the long run, is likely to be the very best, but the jump from one dose to no dose is enormous in terms of protection.
‘There are things we can do that would prevent early death and vaccinating people over 50 who aren’t vaccinated would be a really big one.’
The J&J jab was approved for use in the UK in May but exact details on when it might actually be deployed have not been forthcoming.
The UK’s medical product regulator, the MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products, Regulatory Agency), have gone so far as to produce a information leaflet about the jab to be handed to patients after they get vaccinated.
In May No10 announced to great aplomb that it had secured 20million doses of the vaccine and these would form a part of the UK’s third shot booster program.
In this announcement, the Government lauded the fact the vaccine could be stored at fridge temperatures, between 2 and 8 degrees, making it ‘ideal’ for distribution to UK’s care homes.
At the time the Government said it was expecting the first deliveries of J&J jab later this year.
But Government sources have now told MailOnline the UK is yet to receive any doses of the J&J jab, repeating only that it is expected ‘later this year’.
J&J’s jab, which works in a similar way to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has already been rolled out in the EU 15 million times.
Johnson and Johnson jabs are already being distributed in the EU having been given to 15million people since June . They are however one of the smaller suppliers of Covid vaccines to the continent
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is one of three Covid vaccines approved for use in the US and, similar to the EU, has been administered to 15 million people
Needle-phobia keeping you away from the Covid jab? Here’s how to cope
What is needle phobia?
Needle phobia is a fear of medical procedures that involve needles or injections.
How common is it?
It is very common, affecting at least one in 10 people.
What causes it?
Many patients with needle phobia may have had a lot of blood tests or procedures as a child.
What can I do to overcome my fear?
Tell the person who is coordinating your care, giving you your injection or doing a blood test about your worries. They may be able to answer any specific questions you have, and help you cope with the procedure, for example by chatting to distract you. Don’t worry, staff looking after you will not be annoyed or think you are a wimp when you tell them – they would like to know so that they can help to make it easier for you
There are also techniques such as applied tension, where you your body to increase your blood pressure to ward off fainting, and relaxation breathing to help assist you with your fear.
It is also one of the weapons in the US’s arsenal, with 15 million doses given as of October 16.
Ministers have yet to sign off plans on who will be offered the jab first because the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government on vaccines, has yet to issue its advice.
While the UK is waiting for the J&J vaccine, some experts are saying that offering the jab to the unvaccinated over 50s could offer them crucial protection over the winter.
Dr Edwards said not only will getting the jab help protect you from the virus it may also stop you becoming so ill from Covid that you take up NHS resources and staff needed in an emergency.
‘It would be tragic to have a medical emergency and find your health service is too full to be able to give you the best possible care,’ he said.
‘If not enough people get vaccinated the health system won’t be able to look after you, or the people you care about.’
On the issue of needle phobia, Dr Edwards, who describes himself as a blood donor who faints at the sight of blood, said he understood people’s fear.
However, he said that offering these people a single jab may lift this barrier as it was not insurmountable.
‘I understand the fear of needles is powerful, I really do, but I think that shouldn’t be barrier to doing something like this,’ he said.
‘Having one dose, instead of having one, and then having to book another one, that could help definitely.’
Professor Anna Whittaker, an expert in vaccines and behavioural medicine from the University of Stirling, said the offering the single jab to the unvaccinated over 50s could offer them quicker protection as the country heads into winter.
‘Generally if a vaccine has proven efficacy and safety in the age group concerned then it would be worth offering,’ she said.
‘Another advantage of a single dose (beyond reduced needles) is that full protection happens faster than a two-dose schedule.’
The single-dose vaccine has been shown to be 67 per cent effective in preventing Covid infection.
In comparison, the most recent UK data for vaccine efficacy showed that two doses of Pfizer were 73 per cent effective at preventing infection and two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab was 62 per cent effective.
The UK government lists Moderna, the third Covid vaccine approved for use in the UK as 95 per cent effective in preventing infection.
Both trials and real world data for the J&J jab has shown it is 85 per cent effective in preventing severe disease or hospitalisation.
However, there have been some reports of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, and some cases of blood clots associated with the vaccine.
This is similar to the risks associated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which works using similar technology.
Experts have previously suggested that anti-vax conspiracy theories and complacency from believing the pandemic is essentially over could be driving some over 50s to shun the vaccine.
The calls come amid concerning trends in Covid data in recent days with cases breach 50,000 yesterday, the first time since July in a 15 per cent weekly jump on last week.
Experts have long warned of an expected surge this winter, fueled by pupils returning to schools, workers heading back to offices and people socialising more indoors.
Covid vaccines have been proven to reduce the need for hospitalisations.
Last month a Public Health England report found unvaccinated people were up to five times more likely to be hospitalised if they catch Covid than the double-jabbed.