Ministers should consider rolling out Covid booster injections even without a green light from the vaccinations watchdog, the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Hunt, who chairs the Commons health committee, said this would be acceptable given that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) appeared to support the basic idea of a third vaccination for some groups, and that time was crucial.
His intervention comes amid increasing ministerial impatience at the lack of a verdict from the JCVI about who should receive booster jabs, and whether 12- to 15-year-olds should also be vaccinated.
The JCVI discussed children’s vaccinations on Thursday and the Guardian understands its members reached a majority decision, with an announcement likely either on Friday or Monday.
It will not decide on boosters until next week, when members will see results from the Cov-Boost study, which is examining the effects of a third dose.
Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK should immediately mimic Israel’s policy of mass booster vaccinations.
He said: “If you look at what’s happened in Israel, they have a higher vaccination rate even than us – 80% of adults – and they have found a Delta variant does lead to increased hospital admissions, but two weeks after they introduced boosters those admissions started to go down again.
“I understand why scientists are taking their time but I think in a pandemic politicians can also read the runes and see the direction of travel. I think Anthony Harnden on your programme yesterday gave a very clear hint – he’s from the JCVI that decides these things – that they are likely to recommend boosters.
“In a pandemic I think even a few days can make a big difference. So I think we should just get on, not wait for that advice, get on with a booster programme.”
Asked about vaccinations on Thursday, Boris Johnson largely evaded the question, but did say that “the priorities now are the older generation going into autumn and winter”, indicating more clinically vulnerable groups could be the focus of a booster programme.
Johnson added: “And we’ve always said that there’ll be a booster programme in September, in this month, and we’re going ahead with that.”