The over-70s could begin getting booster shots to protect them against new coronavirus variants in September under plans for the future of the vaccine rollout.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the first booster doses would go to the top four priority groups, including care home staff, NHS workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
He told the Telegraph that this would likely begin in September and that the government is expecting up to eight different jabs to be available by the autumn.
A number will reportedly be manufactured in the UK, which could ease the pressure on supplies amid tensions with the European Union as it faces shortages from AstraZeneca.
Asked when the booster programme would begin, Mr Zahawi told the newspaper: “The most likely date will be September.
“Jonathan Van-Tam (the deputy chief medical officer) thinks that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, (it) would be around September.”
Ministers were facing pressure to protect the success of the vaccination programme against the import of new variants from overseas, with the Guardian reporting officials met on Friday to consider expanding the travel “red list” mandating hotel quarantine.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The UK government are yet again doing too little, too late to secure our borders against COVID – and it’s the British people that will pay the price.
“Ministers need to do everything possible to stop new variants reaching the UK – and move to a comprehensive hotel quarantine system now.”
European Union leaders gave their backing to more stringent vaccine shipment controls as the bloc struggles with its rollout, but stopped short of imposing an export ban.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca must “catch up” on deliveries to the EU before exporting doses elsewhere.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden discussed their vaccination programmes in a call on Friday afternoon.
“The prime minister stressed that global access to vaccines will be key to defeating the pandemic,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
The European Medicines Agency signed off moves that will increase manufacturing capacity and supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
The EU agency approved the Halix site in Leiden in the Netherlands for the production of AstraZeneca’s active vaccine substance, boosting the licensed sites to four.
And it backed a new manufacturing site in the German city of Marburg, as well as more flexible storage conditions for the Pfizer jab.
Meanwhile, the government has been accused by a senior Tory of failing black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and young women on hesitancy towards vaccines.
Caroline Nokes, the chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said in a letter to Mr Zahawi that not tackling the issue could be “devastating” for vaccine hesitant groups as well as wider society.
The former minister said disparities on vaccine uptake and hesitancy are “most prominent” among minority ethnic groups, adults in deprived areas and young women.
The government responded by saying it is working hard with the NHS to “encourage people in all communities to come forward” for vaccination.
Chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee Caroline Nokes will be live on Sky News this morning from 7am.