Allow me to congratulate brave GPs and PCNs who have said that they will honour existing second dose appointments for the Pfizer Covid vaccine, despite the Government’s recent decision to delay the interval between doses.
The World Health Organisation has categorically said: ‘People should get two doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine within 21-28 days.’
The Government’s advice to delay the second dose to between 12 weeks is not based on data from the Pfizer/BioNTech trial, but on an assumption of what would have happened if the second dose hadn’t been given at 21 days. While assumptions can be useful for political advantage or generating a hypothesis, alone they are not a sufficient reason to alter a known effective dosing regimen.
I agree that vaccines proven to be effective in a particular dosing schedule are not altered without solid scientific support or evidence. The vaccine used in the Oxford/AstraZeneca study is a different type of vaccine (viral vector DNA), for which there are prior data from other similar vaccines, and it does make sense to increase the interval to 12 weeks.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation advice – and the all four nations’ chief medical officers’ endorsement to delay the second dose to between four and 12 weeks – is not based on data from the trial, but on political desire to immunise as many as possible in the first wave. I don’t agree this is a sufficient reason to alter a known effective dosing regimen.
Independent scientists have genuine concerns that extending a second injection out to beyond 28 days could compromise vaccine efficacy. Increased coverage with the first dose as intended by the politicians could come at increased risk to already high-risk/priority groups.
As BMA GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey rightly says, ‘the decision to ask GPs, at such short notice, to rebook patients for three months hence, will also cause huge logistical problems for almost all vaccination sites and practices. For example, to make contact with even just two thousand elderly or vulnerable patients will take a team of five staff at a practice about a week, and that’s simply untenable’.
The BMA is absolutely right – it is ‘grossly unfair’ to elderly patients to cancel their second dose appointments next week. It’s right in supporting doctors who will defy the NHS advice.
Not allowing the second Pfizer dose within the recommended timeframe by the manufacturer is nothing less than politicians taking over science. Pfizer/Biotech and WHO have explicitly said that there is no data to suggest that the first dose is effective beyond three weeks.
This is incredibly distressing for older people who thought they were going to be protected.
Surely the researchers and scientists who designed and manufactured the vaccine are the ones should be listening to, rather than politicians.
I appeal to health secretary Matt Hancock to urgently reverse his instructions to vaccination hubs and ask them to stick to the original protocol. The stakes are too high, and it’s not the time to experiment or play politics with vaccines.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP in Tameside