Covid boosters are expected to become available to the UK public to buy for the first time after health officials said they supported the move.
The announcement by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) means that pharmacies and clinics could offer the booster for sale as is the case with flu jabs.
It comes after a new Covid variant ‘Eris’ was declared a variant of interest by the World Health Organization, although the public health risk has been judged as low.
Speaking to the Times newspaper, a UKHSA spokesperson said: “We have spoken to manufacturers we’re in contract with and made it clear we won’t prevent them initiating a private market for Covid-19 vaccines, rather we’d welcome such an innovation in the UK.
“As far as we’re concerned, the ball is in the court of the manufacturers to develop the market with private healthcare providers.”
Covid jabs are currently only available on the NHS, with eligibility decided by scientific advisers.
The number of people who will qualify for a booster on the NHS this autumn has been cut by about 12 million, compared to last year, after the minimum age was raised to 65 from 50.
Private booster jabs are not expected to be available in time for an autumn booster campaign, but could become available next year.
In the US, private jabs could be offered as soon as this autumn, reports suggest. These are expected to be priced around $130 (£102).
Professor Adam Finn of the University of Bristol, a member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said he saw no reason why the jabs shouldn’t be available to buy.
Speaking in a personal capacity, he told the Times: “I think it will be a good idea for vaccines to be made available to those that want them on the private market.
“I don’t really see any reason why that shouldn’t be happening.”
Vaccine manufacturers have said their priority remains supplying to the NHS.
However, Moderna has said it is open to “exploring the possibility and viability of providing Covid-19 vaccines to healthcare providers for private sales”.