Europe

NHS medics break cover to condemn ‘dangerous’ decision to delay second dose of Covid jab

Pfizer vaccine: Expert explains ‘concerning’ results in Israel

Health workers fear delaying the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine could have “dangerous and costly consequences” on the NHS and potentially put people’s lives at risk. It comes after findings from Israel’s rapid rollout of the Pfizer vaccine shows giving just a single dose of the vaccine offers less protection than previously thought.

In December the UK Government announced the second dose would be given towards the end of 12 weeks rather than in the previously recommended 3-4 weeks.

They said they want to give a single dose of the jab to as many members of priority groups as possible.

The World Health Organisation’s expert scientific advisers have said they do not recommend that other countries follow the British approach, but they also say it understands why the UK has chosen to go down this road.

But frontline medics have been more critical and suggested the move to delay the second jab could have severe consequences.

One paramedic, who is based in the south east of England, is concerned about the lack of evidence surrounding the decision to delay the second dose.

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They said: “I believe it could have dangerous and costly consequences for the NHS to delay the second vaccination.

“It remains unknown whether the immunity lasts post 21 days so it is putting the most vulnerable at a greatly increased risk.

“There is zero transparency on the efficacy and safety of the vaccine post three weeks so I would urge the government to follow the evaluated study design.”

A doctor who works in Intensive Care, dealing with critically ill coronavirus patients, also fears the delay could have unforeseen consequences.

They said: “I’m worried the efficacy of the vaccine will wear off in the 12-weeks, and mean all our efforts to roll-out the vaccine will be for nothing.”

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Analysis from Israel, where the Pfizer jab has been rolled out the fastest, suggests the effectiveness of the vaccine after a single dose is as low as 33 percent – rather than the 89 percent that had initially been recorded.

The 89 percent pointed to high short-term protection and was used to help justify the UK’s decision to delay giving the second dose of the vaccine.

Scientists in Israel, where one-quarter of the population has been vaccinated, studied the preliminary data from vaccinated 200,000 people and compared them with the same number belonging to an unvaccinated group.

They found two weeks after the first dose was given, both groups tested positive for the virus at roughly the same rate.

But then those vaccinated started to show 33 percent fewer new infections than the others.

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The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Prof Stephen Evans cautioned the data does not suggest the UK’s policy is incorrect.

He said: “The reports that have come from Israel are insufficient to provide any evidence that the current UK policy in regard to delaying the second dose of vaccines is in any way incorrect.”

Professor Martin Michaelis of the University of Kent’s School of Biosciences also told this website it was too early to say whether delaying the second dose to 12 weeks will be of overall benefit or not.

He said: “The advantage of the 12-week interval is that you can provide some protection to a larger part of the population in a shorter time.

“Although the individual protection may be lower by this approach, the protection at the population level may be higher.

“Hence, this is a trade-off between protecting individuals and protecting the society. There may also be differences between the vaccines.”

In December, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said: “Given data indicating high efficacy from the first dose of both Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines, the committee advises that delivery of the first dose to as many eligible individuals as possible should be initially prioritised over delivery of a second vaccine dose.

“This should maximise the short-term impact of the programme. The second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be given between three to 12 weeks following the first dose.

“The second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine may be given between four to 12 weeks following the first dose.”

The four UK chief medical officers agreed to follow the JCVI advice, as they believe the benefit of vaccinating more people outweighs the risk of individuals not having as strong protection against infection as they might have with two doses.

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