Delaying second vaccine dose will save thousands of lives, says government adviser

Delaying the second dose 'may provide better protection in the long run'. Credit: PA

Delaying a second dose of coronavirus vaccine will save “thousands of lives” and may provide better protection in the long run, a top Government vaccine adviser has said.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there was “no real evidence” that a quicker follow-up dose was more effective.

It comes as other medical professionals continue to criticise the delay, with one GP describing it as an “unregulated and unlicensed trial”.

“We do believe you should have a second dose but we do believe that that can be delayed,” Prof Harnden told Sky News on Sunday.

Prof Harden cited data from a study of the Moderna vaccine – which uses a similar technology to the Pfizer vaccine – which showed 1,000 people had 90% immunity two months after receiving one dose.

“If you look at the AstraZeneca data – which I accept is a different technology – it may be that the longer you leave the second dose the better protection you have,” he said.

“Hopefully not only will this strategy get more people immunised and protect the vulnerable elderly and save thousands and thousands of lives, it may in the end give protection to the population as a whole.”

He added that although data from Israel indicated that immunity after a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine could be as low as 33%, further examination of these results was needed.

90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, Israeli health minister Yuli Edelstein said that the country was “just at the beginning of the (vaccination) campaign” and that he hoped to have better information “in the near future”.

“We do see cases of people that after getting the first dose still get sick with the coronavirus,” Mr Edelstein told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“At the same time there are some encouraging signs of less severe diseases, less people hospitalised after the first dose, so at this stage it’s very difficult to say.

“We really hope that we will have better information in the near future. We are collecting every piece of information, and we are hoping to be able to say very soon that the number of those hospitalised has gone down.”

Mr Edelstein said Israel had decided to stick to the instructions given by Pfizer on how soon to give the second dose after the first, but added there had been “differences of opinion” on the matter within the health ministry.

It comes after the British Medical Association wrote to the chief medical officer for England urging a rollout rethink, highlighting the maximum gap of six weeks between Pfizer jabs mandated by the World Heath Organisation (WHO).

Dr Rosie Shire, a member of the Doctors’ Association UK, said there was concern about the effects of vaccine doses being delayed.

Dr Shire told Sky News that studies of the Pfizer vaccine showed two doses three weeks apart gave 90% immunity.

“What really concerns us is we don’t know what happens if you don’t give that second dose of vaccination after three weeks,” she said.

“The fact is that people are being vaccinated now and being put into what is effectively an unregulated unlicensed trial, whereby they’re receiving this vaccination on the understanding that they don’t know what’s going on.”