Covid vaccinations will be available privately in the UK for the first time this year, and patients are already booking appointments for the £45-a-pop jabs.
Pharmadoctor – a company that provides clinical service packages to pharmacists – has announced that jabs will be available for patients aged 12 years and over – provided they pass a face-to-face consultation with a pharmacist.
At present, 27 pharmacies in England and Scotland are listed as offering appointments for the jabs and the company said it expected the figure to grow.
“Over the coming weeks, as pharmacists come on board to offer the service, the network will build and we expect it to mirror the private flu service which we support thousands of pharmacies to offer each year,” said Graham Thoms, the chief executive of Pharmadoctor.
The latest booster jabs have been limited to selected populations, with the latest offered only to over-65s, carers, frontline healthcare workers and the clinically vulnerable, and have so far only been available on the NHS.
That has meant many people have not had a booster jab since late 2021, and experts have warned that their protection will have waned over time. As a result, many have called for Covid jabs to be made privately available, just as flu jabs are, to offer protection against both Covid and long Covid.
Pharmadoctor said the initial vaccine on offer would be the updated Novavax jab, which targets the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
“But as more vaccines become licensed for use in the private market, they will be added into the service,” he said.
The Novavax jab is a protein-based vaccine that uses more established technology than some other Covid vaccinations, meaning it may be more acceptable to some who have concerns over newer types of vaccine based on mRNA or adenovirus platforms – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca Covid jabs respectively.
Prof Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said the version that is to be given privately protects against Omicron variants including the currently circulating JN.1 variant. But he added: “It is likely that the mRNA-based vaccines will also be available privately soon.”
While some have raised concerns about poor uptake of recent booster jabs among some of those eligible for the free jabs, it seems pharmacists are already experiencing demand for the paid-for service.
“By this morning, I’d received seven bookings for the first of April, when it actually goes live,” said Cyril Siou of the Nightingale Pharmacy in Southampton.
Dr Simon Williams, a behavioural scientist at Swansea University, said the development was welcome – but queried the £45 cost. “The decision to offer Covid-19 boosters to purchase privately is a good thing from a public health perspective. Like the flu vaccine, it means that more people now have a choice of whether they want to reduce their risk of getting ill from Covid, including reducing their risk of getting long Covid,” he said.
“However, this new development is not ideal. The fact that the jabs cost £45 excludes a lot of people, particularly those on low incomes, who won’t be able to afford it.”