(12 Jan 2021) LEAD IN:
There's heated debate among scientists over whether the UK government is right to change Pfizer BioNTech's instructions on how the vaccine is given.
The second booster jab is being delayed amid a surge of infections caused by the UK's COVID-19 variant. The delay is aimed at increasing the speed at which people get their first jab.
This facility was converted into a COVID-19 hospital in the spring of 2020.
Today its acting as a temporary mortuary as the number of British deaths from the pandemic spikes above any other country in Europe.
The UK government’s goal is to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February, targeting people over 70, front line healthcare workers and others who are especially vulnerable to the virus.
According to UK health officials that will protect people who account for almost 90 percent of coronavirus-related deaths and may allow restrictions to be eased, the government says.
More than 600,000 people age 80 and over are receiving invitations this week to get the coronavirus shot at new large-scale vaccine centres around England.
UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock said at Monday's briefing (11 January 2021) that so far 2.6 million doses of the vaccine had been given to 2.3 million people in the UK.
The vaccination drive comes as the UK sees more COVID-19 patients being hospitalised than when the country went into its first lockdown last spring.
The Office of National Statistics estimated that 1 in 50 people in England had the virus in the most recent week.
There are now three vaccines authorised for deployment in the UK, they're new mRNA jabs made by Pfizer BioNTech and the adenovirus made by Oxford University and AstraZenica.
At first the UK's Chief Medical Officers deployed the earliest available vaccine, Pfizer BioNTech, with the most vulnerable getting a second appointment within the drug company's recommended three to four week gap.
Now Britain's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says the gap is being widened to twelve weeks to ensure more of the vulnerable get a priority first jab.
According to the British Medical Journal, the change in strategy is being blamed on vaccine shortages.
This change in approach is causing particular concern about whether this will reduce the effectiveness of the new mRNA drugs.
These don't put an inactivated or weakened virus into our bodies.
Instead these vaccines instruct cells in our bodies to make a harmless piece of protein from the spike found on the surface of the virus.
Daniel Altmann is Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London and is Associate Editor of the medical journal Vaccine.
"There's been an enormously heated debate amongst professors of immunology and vaccinology internationally, just looking into and considering what's been going on in the U.K., my U.S. colleagues in particular are very, very nervous about it. So the only way I can present it to you is like this, that the committee in the U.K., the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation), really did go into this you know, with their best attempt to make a pragmatic decision in the heat of battle, faced with a very difficult situation, and they feel like they can stand by their calculation," explains Altmann.
Scientists like Altmann believe it's not possible to make a judgement with certainty, because the trial simply wasn't designed to address whether there could be a longer gap between the first and second doses.
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