The UK’s decision to wait up to 12 weeks before giving people their second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine should be scrapped, senior doctors have said, reigniting a debate over the British government’s unorthodox inoculation strategy.
Britain is prioritizing giving more of its most at-risk citizens a first dose of a vaccine, and has delayed appointments for a second jab.
But the decision has been debated in the medical community, and the chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) urged ministers to follow the “best practice” and cut the wait time to six weeks for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Pfizer/BioNTech recommend the second dose takes place 21 days after the first, and have said there’s no data to support a 12-week gap.
“What we’re saying is that the UK should adopt this best practice based on international professional opinion,” BMA chairman Dr. Chaand Nagpaul told the BBC on Saturday. The organization has sent a letter to the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, warning against the delay.
“Most nations in the world are facing challenges similar to the UK, in having limited vaccine supply and also wanting to protect their population maximally,” Nagpaul added. “No other nation has adopted the UK’s approach.”
In a statement to CNN, a BMA spokesperson said the letter informs Whitty of “the growing concern from the medical profession regarding the delay of the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as the UK’s strategy has become increasingly isolated from many other countries.”
The group told CNN they were also concerned about the availability of the vaccine in the coming weeks, saying their members feel that “given the unpredictability of supplies, there may not be any guarantees that second doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be available in 12 weeks’ time.”
“The Association is urging the (Chief Medical Officer) to urgently review the UK’s current position of second doses after 12 weeks,” they said.
Britain is vaccinating its citizens at one of the quickest rates in the world, thanks partly to its spread-out dosing strategy. More than 5 million Brits have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and more than 400,000 people are receiving the jab on a daily basis.
Public Health England’s medical director Yvonne Doyle defended the plan, telling the BBC on Saturday it was necessary to bring the virus under control.
“The more people that are protected against this virus, the less opportunity it has to get the upper hand. Protecting more people is the right thing to do,” she said.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been in use in the UK since early December, when it became the first country in the world to approve it.
When Britain first announced its plans, Pfizer said it did not have data to demonstrate that just a single dose of its vaccine would provide protection against the disease after more than 21 days.
“Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 study for the Covid-19 vaccine was designed to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and efficacy following a 2-dose schedule, separated by 21 days,” Pfizer said in a statement last month. “There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”
But the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland explained the move in a letter to health care professionals after the vaccine was approved, saying it was based on the “balance of risks and benefits,” and that the “great majority” of initial protection came from the first jab.
The debate comes as Covid-19 deaths soar in the UK. While new cases are declining since Britain went into a third lockdown this month, the country reported its highest-ever daily fatality toll on Wednesday, with 1,820 deaths, giving a total of 97,517, according to John Hopkins University.
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark and Nada Bashir contributed reporting