The BMA has written to the Government calling for ‘a dialogue’ about halving the gap between Pfizer vaccine doses to six weeks.
Official guidance changed on 31 December to say all second doses should be given after 12 weeks instead of three weeks to maximise the number of people protected against Covid-19 in the shortest possible timeframe.
Speaking to Sky News over the weekend, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the BMA has written to the chief medical officer (CMO) about the 12-week interval, asking him to ‘reconsider the decision’.
He called on the Government to ‘look at guidance from the World Health Organisation’ (WHO) and ‘take stock of the fact that no other nation in the world has adopted the 12-week delay like the UK’.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey added that the BMA wants ‘a dialogue’ and ‘proper scientific enquiry’ over the issue, using new data from the vaccination programme.
He also told Sky News: ‘We need to understand the data and we want a dialogue with the CMO around that to really fully understand what the situation is now and what level of protection one dose is giving to our patients and to the healthcare professionals.
‘Six weeks is what the WHO recommend – they’ve done an analysis of the initial Pfizer data and it’s what Pfizer would recommend as well, looking at the extrapolation of their own studies – but we’ve now got far more data than the trials have ever had to look at.’
He added: ‘It’s important that we have a proper scientific enquiry, we review the evidence and that we’re open to looking at that evidence and implementing it as best as we can.’
The BMA is ‘talking specifically about the Pfizer vaccine’, as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine ‘has got approval from its manufacturer for a delay of up to 12 weeks’, Dr Nagpaul said.
The BMA has said that it ‘recognises’ the need to ‘protect as many people as possible as soon as possible’ but will be ‘pushing’ for second doses of the Pfizer vaccine ‘as close as possible to the original schedule’.
While there is ‘some evidence’ that a longer interval between doses of the Oxford vaccine ‘promotes a stronger immune response’, there is a ‘lack of data’ on the impact of increasing the gap between Pfizer doses beyond 42 days, it added.
However, any delay to the delivery of second doses ‘must be used to rapidly accelerate vaccination of all frontline healthcare workers’, the BMA said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said its priority was to protect as many vulnerable people against coronavirus in the shortest possible time.
The spokesperson said: ‘The decision to change vaccine dosage intervals followed a thorough review of the data and was in line with the recommendations of the UK’s four chief medical officers.
‘Both vaccines provide a high degree of protection after the first dose, and the Government has closely followed the guidance of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which was clear that we should give as many people as possible some level of immunity initially.’
In the Government’s daily Covid-19 press briefing on Friday, England’s CMO, Professor Chris Whitty, was asked whether the 12-week interval between vaccine doses would reduce protection.
He said ‘the answer is slightly different’ for each of the two vaccine types being used in the UK.
He added: ‘But in both cases, we think that the great majority of the protection is given by the first vaccine and the second one is going to top that up and to extend it over time, but we do actually have confidence that there will be a lot of protection after the first vaccination.’
He said: ‘Now of course we’ll keep that under review as new data comes in.
‘But there are several lines of data that make us think it is likely that once you get protection, initially, it lasts for a reasonable period of time – including people who’ve had the natural infection where they seem to have protection for many months… and it also looks as if that’s the case with several different vaccine types which have been tried with one vaccine and then a later dose, later on.’
It comes as a doctor has raised more than £20,000 to launch a legal challenge against the Government’s decision to extend the gap between doses.