Docs criticize UK well being authorities for altering Pfizer Covid vaccination schedule

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, United Kingdom, on December 8, 2020.

Frank Augstein | Reuters

Doctors in the UK are pushing for health officials’ decision to change the schedule for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccinations, saying it will not “follow science”.

UK health officials said Wednesday they would prefer to give the first dose of vaccine to as many people as possible as soon as possible, which could delay the supply of those who received the second vaccine by up to 12 weeks. Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine developed with BioNTech recommends giving the second shot three weeks after the initial dose.

The decisions would also apply to the two-dose coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which the UK approved for emergency use on Wednesday. The first doses are expected to be launched next week and added to a Covid-19 immunization program launched by the UK in December with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

“We have real and serious concerns about these sudden changes to the Pfizer vaccination regime,” the Doctors’ Association UK, a nonprofit advocacy group of voluntary health professionals, said in a tweet Thursday. “It undermines the consent process and doesn’t obey science at all.”

The organization said in a statement that the decision to change the regime is likely to be difficult given the pressure the country’s hospitals are facing from Covid-19 patients. However, the protection shown after just one dose is “considerably less” than with two shots.

Pfizer’s late-stage clinical studies showed that the vaccine was somewhat effective after the first dose was given. In documents released to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early December, data showed that at least 52% of the vaccine before the second dose and 82% in the combined group of people who took one or two doses, was effective.

However, Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines have been shown to be at least 94% effective when given in two doses about a month apart.

Pfizer, however, pushed back the UK’s decision in a statement to CNBC on Thursday, saying its large clinical trials had tested a 21-day interval. Clinical studies have shown that two doses three weeks apart has been shown to provide maximum effectiveness, the company said.

“The safety and efficacy of the vaccine were not assessed according to different dosing schedules, as the majority of study participants received the second dose within the window specified in the study design,” Pfizer said.

Separately, the UK government said that the advice of the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee, which advises it on vaccination programs, “would ensure that more at-risk people receive meaningful protection from a vaccine in the coming weeks and months”.

This would help reduce the number of deaths and ease pressure on the country’s hospitals, especially as the country battles a new, faster-spreading variant of the virus.

“The committee recommends prioritizing the delivery of the first vaccine dose first, as it is most likely to have greater public health impacts in the short term and reduce the number of preventable deaths from COVID-19,” the advisory committee said in a statement Thursday.

Pfizer’s vaccine doses have been launched in the UK for over three weeks, and around 600,000 people have already received their first doses of the medicine according to recent government statistics.

While the decision is ultimately up to health officials, it will be “critical” to monitor alternative schedules to “ensure that each recipient is given the maximum possible protection, which means immunization with two doses of the vaccine,” Pfizer said.

– CNBC’s Matt Clinch, Holly Ellyatt, Steve Kopack and Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

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