Booster jabs for the clinically extremely vulnerable – what does this mean for me?

The Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI) have published draft recommendations on the use of third vaccine doses as booster jabs. Here, we update you on what this means for blood cancer patients.

As many of you will know, blood cancer patients were prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, due to many patients being clinically extremely vulnerable to severe COVID-19. Unfortunately, further research has shown that some blood cancer patients are less likely to have responded to the vaccine than healthy people without blood cancers. More work is needed to know which blood cancer patients are most affected by this news, but you can read some studies published so far here and here 

A key thing that we have learnt from studies in blood cancer patients so far is the importance of the second vaccine to boost a person’s response. Whilst not every blood cancer patient reaches 100% antibody response after the second dose, studies clearly show that the second dose significantly improves the antibody response compared with having only the first dose. 

Therefore, it is great to hear in the news that Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI), the independent body that has advised the government on roll out of COVID-19 vaccines so far, have published draft recommendations on the use of third vaccine doses as booster jabs.  

You may be familiar with booster jabs from other vaccines you have received. Tetanus is one good example; if you have had a serious cut or injury and gone to hospital, you will know that if you haven’t had a tetanus jab recently, you will be offered one to boost your immunity. Another example is that we have the flu vaccine annually, as the flu vaccine mutates year to year and different strains are around each year. This means that last year’s vaccine might not work against this year’s flu strain. With variants of the COVID-19 vaccine emerging, it is hoped that future vaccines could protect against new variants.  

Due to need for speed, the COVID-19 booster jab is likely to be one of the existing vaccines, rather than one that is changed for variants. The aim would be to boost immunity, as we don’t yet know how long COVID-19 antibodies last, since the vaccine is less than a year in use. There may be future booster jabs after that, but this is still to be decided. The booster programme that has been recommended for this autumn will be prioritised in two stages: 

Stage 1 – those over 70 years old, the clinically extremely vulnerable, the immunosuppressed, healthcare and social care workers and care home residents. 

Stage 2 – everyone over the age of 50, everyone who usually is invited for a flu vaccine annually, those who live with those who are immunosuppressed. 

This means that many blood cancer patients are likely to be included in this booster vaccine, as will those who live with blood cancer patients who are immunosuppressed. Whilst we do not know if COVID-19 vaccines are effective for blood cancer patients, a booster dose may help to improve immunity further, giving patients as much protection as possible. Therefore, we welcome the inclusion of the clinically extremely vulnerable in the priority list. We also welcome the inclusion of the contacts of those who are immunosuppressed, as this will help stop COVID-19 being passed on to those less likely to have reacted to the COVID-19 vaccine.  

It is important to note that no details have yet been decided on when and how you will be invited for this booster. We will share more information when we have this.  

If you have questions, you can contact the Advocacy team by calling 08088 010 444, or emailing advocacy@leukaemiacare.org.uk.

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