A government vaccine adviser has defended plans to delay the second dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine from three weeks to 12 weeks after the first jab, as the United States’ top doctor said he disagreed with the approach.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the American infectious disease expert, said the “optimal time” for patients to receive the second vaccine dosage 21 days after the first, telling CNN he “would not be in favour” of the UK government’s strategy.
Following the approval of a second vaccine developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca last week, the Department of Health and Social Care said it would prioritise giving the first jab to “as many people in at-risk groups”.
“Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first,” it added in a statement. “The second dose completes this course and is important for longer term protection.”
The change in strategy was welcomed by some experts, but Dr Fauci told CNN: “You can make an argument and some people are regarding stretching out the doses, giving a single dose across the board and the hoping you are going to get the second dose in time to give to individuals. I would not be in favour of that.”
The British Medical Association also claimed it was “grossly unfair” that patients who have already received their fist dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine were having appointments cancelled due to the change in guidance.
But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), stressed that delaying the second dose was the correct approach.
He said that patients he had dealt with accepted the move, adding: “When it was explained to them that the vaccine offers 90 per cent protection for one dose, and the priority was to get as many people vaccinated in the elderly and vulnerable community as possible, they understood.
“I think the country is all in this together. And I think we really, really want to pull together to try ad do the best strategy possible”.
He insisted: “It’s clear from looking at the data the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine after one dose after 14 days is 90 per cent.”
Pressed on Dr Fauci’s comments, he replied: “That’s up to the Americans what they do… we’re not saying that you shouldn’t have a second dose, you do need a second dose, but that it can be temporarily delayed so that we can get many, many more people vaccinated in this vulnerable and elderly group as well as the clinically extremely vulnerable groups so that we get on top of this virus much quicker.
“We are in a dire situation in this country at the moment. The virus is rapidly spreading and the more vaccine we can get into these priority groups that we’ve identified the more deaths and hospitalisations that we will prevent.”
More than a million people have received their first coronavirus vaccination but in a joint statement England's chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the public will "understand" and "thank" them for the plan to give first jabs as a priority, delaying the follow-up vaccination for others.
The UK is preparing to send out the new Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine, with 530,000 doses available for rollout from Monday and The Times reported that two million doses are due to be supplied each week by the middle of January – enabling a significant scaling of up the vaccine rollout.
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