The UK is considering whether it can speed up COVID vaccination by giving everyone only one dose of the vaccine
A volunteer receives an injection for a potential vaccine against COVID-19 in South Africa. Felix Dlangamandla / Beeld / Gallo Images via Getty Images
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday the government should give people one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine instead of two so people can be vaccinated faster to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
One dose has a 91% effectiveness rate. The second dose increases the rate to 95%.
Professor David Salisbury, former head of the UK Department of Health's immunization department, backed the idea: "You only get 4% [extra protection] for the second dose," he said.
Some scientists said Blair's idea was too risky given the minimal experimental data on how well the vaccines work with a single dose.
The UK government is considering the possibility of a dose, an unnamed source told The Telegraph.
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The UK government is in talks with the UK Medicines Agency after former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the government to give everyone a single shot of the vaccine instead of the recommended two doses, according to The Telegraph.
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Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer's shot is the vaccine currently approved for use in the UK, US, Canada and Europe. It is legal to be given in two doses 21 days apart.
However, there is some debate about whether it would be more efficient to give a single dose first and then worry about the second recommended dose later.
The logistics of giving two doses each in a row is daunting:
Prioritization takes time: All countries had to prioritize who gets them first. There are also logistical challenges: for example, Pfizer's vaccine has to be stored in very cold temperatures. Seven hundred and forty thousand people were injected with their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and more than 2.4 million people around the world were vaccinated, according to Our World in Data on Wednesday.
It is taking months: the current UK strategy, developed with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, puts those most at risk from severe COVID-19 first - the elderly and healthcare workers. However, it can take months for the entire population to be vaccinated.
To speed up the process, Blair said that instead of giving two shots, all available vaccines should be used to immunize people with their first dose rather than giving people who have already immunized their second dose. (His proposal is part of a multi-part plan he has drawn up that also calls on the UK government to prepare controversial health passports.)
According to Pfizer, the vaccine was 95% effective against COVID-19 28 days after the first dose when two doses were given in studies.
However, Professor David Salisbury, former head of the Department of Health's vaccination division, who spoke on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, noted that a single dose can also be very effective.
"You give one dose, you get 91% [protection]. You give two doses and you get 95%. You only gain 4% for the second dose," Salisbury explained.
"In the current circumstances, I urge you to use as many first doses as possible for risk groups and only after you have done all of this, come back with second doses," he added.
However, he conceded that the same principles did not apply to AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, which could be approved immediately in the UK, as the effectiveness of two doses is 60% less.
Too risky? Or reasonable?
Peter Horby, a professor at Oxford University who is the UK Government's NERVTAG Chair on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG), told the Commons Select Committee on Wednesday that a dose cannot be assumed to be as good as two Cans is. The current data favors two doses. He also said we don't know how much of the population needs to be immunized with one dose to reduce the spread of the virus.
Professor Wendy Barclay, director of the Infectious Diseases Division at Imperial College London and a NERVTAG member, said the idea was interesting but "too risky".
"To change at this point, you'd have to see a lot more analysis of clinical trial data," Barclay said.
However, there are experts who see some benefits to Blair's plan. According to The Telegraph, "live discussions" are currently taking place between the UK government and the regulator.
Professor Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, told the Telegraph on Wednesday that the move would be contrary to normal practice but "make sense" but it was unclear how long the immunity would last if the People would only be given one dose.
"It makes immunological sense that a high-potency vaccine may only need one dose, but the duration of protection is unpredictable," said Openshaw.
"A booster may be needed later to improve responses and extend their lifespan," he added.
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