THE number of people to be offered the Covid-19 booster jab in the autumn has been scaled back to focus on “protecting those at highest risk of becoming seriously ill", health officials have announced.

Public Health Scotland (PHS), in conjunction with the Scottish Government, revealed its winter vaccination programme on Tuesday.

Last year, the autumn booster jab was offered to those 50 and over, but this year the eligibility criteria has been tightened so only those aged 65 and over will be offered the jab.

PHS also said that both flu and Covid-19 vaccines will be administered at the same time where possible – a method the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said is safe.

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Health officials said that the larger group was offered the booster jab last year as part of the “emergency response” to the pandemic.

But the “success of these programmes has enabled us to live with Covid and, this year, we are able to scale back the number of people who require an autumn booster”, officials said.

The Covid-19 jab is not available privately in the UK, so those who were offered the vaccine last year and are not eligible this year will not be able to purchase the jab themselves.

Those eligible for a vaccine on this year’s autumn booster programme include:

  • Adults aged 65 and over
  • Care home residents
  • Those aged six months and older who are deemed to be “clinically at risk” with illnesses including severe asthma, diabetes and a number of chronic illnesses
  • People who are immunosuppressed – either through illness or treatment for cancer – and their household contacts aged 12 and over
  • Those aged over 16 who are carers

Meanwhile the JCVI said that adults who are yet to receive a Covid vaccine will be eligible to get a single jab during the booster campaign.

The committee also advised that the NHS should deliver the programme by early December to “optimise protection” over the winter months.

The expansion of the flu programme to will also continue this winter, with eligible groups being:

  • all school-age pupils, including secondary school pupils
  • children aged between two and five
  • children aged six months to under two years at risk

Invitations for all other priority groups receiving both flu and Covid-19 vaccines will follow as the programme progresses, with people in care homes and those aged 75 and over to receive invitations starting from mid-October.

The JCVI advised that protection is highest in the three months following vaccination, meaning those at the highest risk of Covid-19 will be protected across the height of winter and into the new year.

Public health minister Jenni Minto said: “Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourselves, your loved ones, and the NHS from both Covid-19 and flu viruses, and I encourage all those eligible to take up their invitations when they are offered.”

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Dr Claire Cameron, consultant in Health Protection at PHS said: “Getting vaccinated is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself against flu and Covid-19 this winter.

“Scotland’s vaccination programme has always offered vaccinations in the safest and most effective ways possible. We know that administration of both vaccines together is a safe, efficient way to deliver increased protection when it’s most needed.

“Last year, over 89% of flu and Covid-19 vaccines were administered at the same time.”

NHS Scotland will contact people with details of their appointment, or may contact them prompting them to book.

Email, text messages, or by post in a white envelope with NHS Scotland’s branding will be sent to the individual depending on their preferred communication method.