A British public health committee recommended Wednesday that the government prioritize first-round COVID-19 vaccinations instead of adhering to the strict three-weeks-apart vaccine schedule studied in the clinical trials.
The recommendation, which has been accepted by the British government, encouraged extending the timeline for receiving the second COVID-19 vaccine dose by up to three months. For the Pfizer vaccine, that means offering the second dose between 3 weeks and 12 weeks after the recipient’s first dose; for the AstraZeneca vaccine, this means offering the second dose between 2 weeks and 12 weeks afterward.
“For both vaccines, high-levels of protection are evident after the first dose of vaccine,” said Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chair for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. “JCVI advises priority should be given to the first dose, to maximize the public health benefits in the current situation and save more lives.”
“Skipping the second dose is not advised,” warns the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care, “as the second dose may be important for longer lasting protection.”
The U.K.’s chief public health officers have also endorsed the plan, saying it will “protect the greatest number of at risk people overall in the shortest possible time.”
“Operationally this will mean that second doses of both vaccines will be administered towards the end of the recommended vaccine dosing schedule of 12 weeks,” said the health officers. “This will maximise the number of people getting vaccine and therefore receiving protection in the next 12 weeks.”
Other scientists have expressed concerns about the plan, noting that the clinical trials for the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines weren’t designed to test immunity for a single dose. As a result, they say, long-term immunity could suffer under a plan to speed up dose distribution.
“What is the longevity of any protective immunity for one dose, versus two doses?” John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told The New York Times in an interview. “Where’s the data?”
Pfizer told the Times that single-dose immunity for its vaccine has not been studied beyond three weeks, the date at which trial recipients were given the booster shot. This second shot, said Pfizer, is required to “provide the maximum protection against the disease.”
Under the U.S. government’s vaccine regimen, recipients are scheduled to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna vaccine three weeks after the first dose. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was found to be 62% effective in a two-dose regimen, has not been granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
Unlike the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., the British health committee recommends — with only a few exceptions — that the elderly be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.
“The current evidence remains that increasing age is the single greatest risk factor,” says the British public health department. “Therefore, the current recommendation is that groups continue to be vaccinated in the following order:
Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
All those 80 years of age and over, and health and social care workers
All those 75 years of age and over
All those 70 years of age and over, and individuals deemed clinically extremely vulnerable
All those 65 years of age and over
Adults aged 18 to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
All those 60 years of age and over
All those 55 years of age and over
All those 50 years of age and over”
The U.K. has ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 40 million doses of Pfizer’s, enough for each citizen to receive the two-dose regimen, reports Politico.
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