From the Sunday Times
Britain’s mass vaccination programme has roared into action with dramatic results. More than five million jabs have been administered, and the outlook for February and March is much brighter than seemed likely at the start of winter. Yet for all the undoubted early success of a crucial national campaign, concern is growing that the government’s two-dose strategy has a fatal flaw. What happens if the effects of the first jab wear off before the second jab is administered?
All three vaccines approved for use in Britain require two doses for maximum protection. The safety and efficacy trials of the Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines were conducted with the assumption of a month-long gap between doses. The first jab alerts the immune system to the presence of a hostile invader; the second boosts long-term protection.
The basis of the government’s decision to scrap the manufacturers’ recommended three to four-week dosage intervals in favour of a 12-week gap was mathematical, moral and at least partly political. The calculation was that it is better to use the limited early supplies of the vaccine to provide a measure of protection to as broad a section of the population as possible.
Otherwise 50 per cent of supplies would have to be reserved for second jabs and by now only 2½ million people would have been vaccinated. “The more people that are protected against this virus, the less opportunity it has to get the upper hand” Dr Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, told the BBC.
Some scientists doubted that decision from the start, partly on the grounds that no data was available on longer-term immunity. Two weeks ago a group of leading UK and American doctors and scientists claimed that delaying the second dose could have a “catastrophic” impact on efforts to end the pandemic.
Yesterday Dr Chaand Nagpaul,
chairman of the British Medical Association, which represents more than 150,000 doctors, warned that the decision was “difficult to justify”. He has written to the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, calling for the gap between vaccine doses to be cut to six weeks. “The absence of any international support for the UK’s approach is a cause of deep concern and risks undermining public and the profession’s trust in the vaccination programme” the letter stated.
Nagpaul told the BBC’s Breakfast “Obviously the protection will not vanish after six weeks, but what we do not know is what level of protection will be offered we should not be extrapolating data where we don’t have it”.
Meanwhile, a senior manager in the NHS has been accused of jumping the vaccine queue after booking herself in for a Covid jab despite falling outside the priority groups. Diane Baynham, who leads a team at NHSX, the health service’s digital arm, is understood to have received the vaccine last week.
While she works for the NHS, she does not deal with patients, and she is understood to have been working from home. At 49, she is not in an age group that makes her eligible for a vaccine. It is understood Baynham, who lives in Nottinghamshire, drove to her local hospital on Sunday evening to see whether any vaccines were spare. When told there were none, she said she was an NHS worker and booked a jab the next day.
NHS England said “No one has been vaccinated as a result of working for NHSX”.
NHSX, the NHS’s “digital transformation” unit, is collaborating with two digital health companies, Huma and Luscii. Coronavirus patients are provided with an app, into which they enter their symptoms, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen level. They check their oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter three times a day.
Nurses and doctors are in regular phone contact, and patients can be brought back to hospital for checks or treatment if any concerns arise.