SENIOR doctors have called for the gap between doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to be halved to six weeks.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chairman, warned that “no other nation” had adopted the UK’s policy of giving doses of the jab twelve weeks apart.
Doctors have called for the gap between doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to be halved to six weeks (file)Credit: PA:Press Association
The government maintains that leaving a long gap between doses will not result in a sharp drop in the efficacy of the Pfizer jab, and allows vaccination to be ramped up quickly.
But a group of medics from the BMA last night wrote to Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, calling for an urgent review into the government’s position.
They wrote: “The UK’s strategy has become increasingly isolated from many other countries.
“BMA members are also concerned that, given the unpredictability of supplies, there may not be any guarantees that second doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be available in 12 weeks time.”
Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Dr Nagpaul also highlighted new analysis from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which said that second doses of the Pfizer jab should only be delayed “in exceptional circumstances”.
He said: “Most nations in the world are facing challenges similar to the UK in having limited vaccine supply and also wanting to protect their population maximally.
“No other nation has adopted the UK’s approach. We think the flexibility that the WHO offers of extending to 42 days is being stretched far too much to go from six weeks right through to 12 weeks.”
The BMA’s warning comes as new research from Israel, which has vaccinated more people per capita than any other country, claimed that one dose of the Pfizer jab was only 33 per cent effective, sparking concern over the government’s policy.
The study of 200,000 over-60s found the first dose led to a 33 per cent drop in cases between 14 and 21 days afterwards.
This data contradicts the UK’s joint committee (JCVI) suggestion that a single dose would stop 89 per cent of people developing Covid symptoms.
But the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance last night insisted that it was “too early” to be concerned about the Israeli data.
Sir Patrick told a Downing Street briefing: “I think the Israeli health ministry has said they’re not entirely sure those are the final data and they’re expecting the effects to increase so I think it’s very preliminary.”
He added that Israeli health authorities “haven’t followed people for long enough” to make any conclusions on the data.
Why does the UK wait 12 weeks between doses?
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new process will allow more people to get the vaccine sooner and help the country out of the pandemic “by spring”.
He told the BBC on December 30: “It’s very good news for accelerating the vaccine roll-out. It brings forward the day we can get our lives back to normal.”
Explaining the 12-week gap in the dosing regimen, he said: “This is important because it means that we can get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection the first dose gives you.
“The scientists and the regulators have looked at the data and found that you get what they call ‘very effective protection’ from the first dose.
“The second dose is still important – especially for the long-term protection – but it does mean that we will be able to vaccinate more people more quickly than we previously could.”
Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething also said the decision to extend the gap between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine would avoid more deaths.
He said: “Think of it in this way: if you have two doses of the vaccine available you could choose to give that to one person to provide them with full excellent protection, or you could decide to give two doses to two different people to provide both of them with high level protection.”
Some scientists have concerns that spacing out the doses could impact long-term protection and even increase the risk of an “escaped mutant” variant which could be resistant to the vaccines.
Asked about this in a Downing Street briefing on January 6, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty admitted it was a “real worry but quite a small real worry”.
Pfizer itself says a single dose of its vaccine is about 52 per cent effective, which rises to 95 per cent after the second dose.
Britain is currently using two vaccines, one made by Pfizer/BioNTech and the other made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca has supported the gap between its jabs, saying data showed an 8-12 week gap was a “sweet spot” for efficacy.
Health secretary Matt Hancock last month insisted that the policy would help accelerate the rollout of the jab, providing the UK with an exit strategy from lockdown by the Spring.
According to the latest government figures, some 5.38million Brits have been given a first dose of the Covid jab – with the UK vaccinating at a far higher rate than most European nations.
The UK’s original vaccine programme planned to give people their second dose 21 days after the first, which is what Pfizer recommends.
Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle today said it is essential to protect as many people as possible to prevent the virus getting “the upper hand”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement that its priority was to protect as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
A DHSC spokeswoman said: “The decision…to change vaccine dosage intervals followed a thorough review of the data and was in line with the recommendations of the UK’s four chief medical officers.”