Sajid Javid has said he is “confident” that a booster programme for coronavirus jabs can begin this month.
The health secretary told Kay Burley that he is awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which should come “certainly in the next few days” and he believes the process can begin in September.
His comments came as the boss of COVID vaccine maker AstraZeneca said booster jabs may not be needed for everyone in the UK.
Chief executive Pascal Soriot said a nationwide rollout of third doses could put additional pressures on the NHS during the winter.
The JCVI, which advises the government on who should possibly get a third dose, is said to be awaiting results from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust’s Cov-Boost study, which is trialling seven different booster jabs.
Data is expected to be presented to the advisory body this week before it then publishes a decision.
The potential booster programme in the UK would give those most at risk from coronavirus extra protection ahead of the winter.
It would be designed to extend the already strong protection an individual has received from their first and second jabs.
Asked about the booster programme on Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Javid said: “In terms of who actually gets it and when, we’re waiting for final advice which could come across, certainly, in the next few days from the JCVI.”
He said the advice is expected to include information on whether people should get different vaccines to the ones they have already had or the same ones, adding: “I’m confident that we can start the booster programme this month.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News on Tuesday the booster programme was his “absolute priority” as it will “absolutely help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status”.
Mr Zahawi did not deny that “firebreak” restrictions could be implemented in October if COVID-19 hospitalisations remain high – saying the decision depends on the success of the booster jab programme for the elderly and most vulnerable.
He later told MPs the programme is “ready to go” as soon as the scientific advice for the scheme is signed off.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Javid said he has not thought about a so-called firebreak in October.
“I don’t think that’s something we need to consider. I haven’t even thought about that as an option at this point,” the health secretary said.
He added that no decisions are “risk-free” but insisted the “best defence” against another wave of the virus is the vaccine programme.
But the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Abhanom Ghebreyesus, said last month that booster shots in developed countries should be delayed to raise vaccination rates globally.
Data on plans for the general booster campaign is still being collected and analysed.
The current COVID vaccines have been shown to give good protection against severe disease for at least six months, and there is also evidence of longer-lasting protection.
But because any rise in cases would place pressure on the NHS, a booster protection plan for winter has been deemed necessary.
Who a booster jab should be offered to will be recommended by the JCVI.
Last month, the UK agreed to buy 35 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a way to “future-proof” the jabs programme.