Thousands of lives will be saved by delaying a second dose of the Covid vaccine, a Government adviser has said amid calls for the gap between jabs to be cut.
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Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) Professor Anthony Harnden also said a longer period between injections could better protect people in the long run.
It comes as doctors criticise the delay and urge for the gap to be halved, with one GP describing it as an “unregulated and unlicensed trial”.
The UK’s controversial rollout of the vaccine sees patients wait up to 12 weeks for their second jab.
“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.
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Prof Harden cited data from a study of the Moderna vaccine – which uses a similar technology to Pfizer – showing 1,000 people had 90 per cent 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 per cent, further examination of these results was needed.
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 (BMA) wrote to the chief medical officer for England calling for a rollout rethink.
The BMA stressed the World Health Organisation’s advice of a maximum gap of six weeks between Pfizer jabs.
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 per cent 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.”