By: Anurag Baruah
January 31 2023
U.K. is not banning COVID boosters for those under 50. Boosters will continue to be available for those at a higher risk in this group.
The recent announcement of the United Kingdom government to soon end its COVID-19 booster vaccination campaign for healthy adults under 50 years of age has led to a spike in misinformation on social media. After U.K. officials urged healthy adults under 50, who haven't received booster shots to get themselves vaccinated before February 12, 2023, a claim that the U.K. has banned COVID-19 boosters for people under 50 has started doing the rounds on social media.
A Facebook user posted a screenshot of a part of an article with the headline, "U.K. becomes latest country to ban Covid Boosters for Under-50s," on January 26, 2023. The post's caption read: "The U.K. is set to become the latest country to ban boosters for healthy under-50s, as the Government moves away from the "pandemic emergency." The trend has been linked by observers to concerns about vaccine safety." The user, who added the words "TOO LATE FOR MANY" in the caption, also posted a link to the article published by The Daily Sceptic. The screenshot has been shared by many users on Facebook with similar claims, and many have raised questions about the safety of the vaccines in light of the "ban."
A statement issued by the U.K. Health Security Agency, on January 25, 2023, stated that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) had advised the U.K. government to plan booster vaccination for those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 in autumn 2023. The statement also added that the JCVI suggested that, in 2023, COVID-19 vaccination in the U.K. should move towards a more targeted plan to protect those at higher risk of severe COVID-19. The JCVI urged everyone eligible for a first booster who was yet to receive one to get the third jab before or on February 12, 2023. “As the transition continues away from a pandemic emergency response towards pandemic recovery, the JCVI has advised that the 2021 booster offer (third dose) for persons aged 16 to 49 years who are not in a clinical risk group should close in alignment with the close of the autumn 2022 booster vaccination campaign,” the statement said. Nowhere does the JCVI, in its statement, raise concerns about vaccine safety. In fact, it noted: “The COVID-19 vaccination programme continues to reduce severe disease across the population, while helping to protect the NHS (National Health Service.)”
In line with this new advice, U.K. Health Secretary Steve Barclay took to Twitter on January 26, 2023, to announce that the U.K. is changing the COVID vaccination program for 2023, with the offer for autumn booster and the first booster (third dose of vaccine) for people aged 16 to 49 year of age not in a clinical risk group ending on February 12, 2023.
An official from the U.K. Health Security Agency confirmed that the claim that the COVID-19 vaccine or the booster dose has been banned is false. The official, who did not wish to be identified, told Logically over email that while the booster would cease to be available widely, it would continue to be available for anyone with a clinical need. He also said that the JCVI advised an autumn booster campaign starting in September 2023 for those at higher risk, a proposal accepted by the government. "There may also be a spring booster, to be confirmed soon, for those at greatest risk, such as older people and immunosuppressed. So it is completely misleading/inaccurate to say boosters are being banned," he wrote.
While several social media users have linked the discontinuation of the campaigns with concerns over the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, the policy change comes after low uptake rates of both the boosters and primary course vaccination since April 2022. Further, the NHS has asked people to come out and take the shots before the end of the offer. In a statement, Health Minister Maria Caulfield also encouraged those who have not taken their booster jab to come forward before February 12. "It will top up your immunity and keep you and your loved ones protected," she said.
The viral claim originates from an article published on The Daily Sceptic, a website known for spreading COVID misinformation. While the article correctly reports on the press release, it incorrectly refers to the redirecting of resources as a ban in the headline and within the story. Logically has earlier debunked multiple false claims in articles published by this website.
While it is true that the U.K. will soon withdraw the booster dose campaign for persons aged 16-49 years, not in a clinical risk category, the shots will continue to be available for those in clinical need and at higher risk of severe COVID-19. Boosters are not being "banned" by the U.K. for people under 50. Therefore, we mark this claim false.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.