COVID-19: Tony Blair suggests using up UK vaccine stock on first doses and prioritising 'spreading' students

·2-min read

Tony Blair has called for an overhaul of vaccine rollout plans by not holding back second doses and instead using them to give patients their first jabs.

The former Labour prime minister said under the current system, "much of the country will not be vaccinated until spring or summer" - leading to "colossal" economic and health damages.

In a plea to Boris Johnson, he urged the prime minister to "radically accelerate" mass-immunisation.

Mr Blair said the government should "consider using all the available doses in January as first doses, that is, not keeping back half for second doses".

The Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine approved for distribution in the UK requires two doses, administered two weeks apart.

Mr Blair speculated that 30 million Johnson and Johnson vaccines - which requires only one dose - will also be available for use by the end of January.

He also suggested that while the focus should be on frontline health staff and the most vulnerable, people more likely to spread COVID-19 like students should also be considered as a priority.

"The logic behind age is naturally heightened risk of mortality," Mr Blair wrote in an article for The Independent.

"But if it is the spread we're anxious about, then it makes sense to consider vaccinating those doing the spreading, in particular certain occupations or age groups such as students."

"Revisit the logistics plan to see if we can't radically increase the volume of vaccination.

"If the vaccines are available, is it really impossible - given the gravity of our plight - to cover a majority of the population by the end of February?"

The idea to prioritise giving more people a first dose was not warmly welcomed by scientists giving evidence to a Commons select committee on Wednesday.

Prof Peter Horby, who chairs the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said: "You can't assume that one dose is as good or half as good or whatever as good as two doses, because the data you have is on two doses."

And Prof Neil Ferguson said it wouldn't be permitted because the medicines regulator would have to approve it first.

"It would require an entirely different regulatory submission to authorise just a single dose," he said.

So far 500,000 people have had their first jab of the only coronavirus vaccine approved for use in the UK.

Jabs started being administered on 8 December, and are being offered to people based on a priority list mostly dependent on age.

The first person in the UK to receive the vaccine outside a clinical trial was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan.

The grandmother-of-four, who was given the vaccine by nurse May Parsons at Coventry's University Hospital, declared it was "a privilege".

Two groups who will not get the jab are pregnant women and most children under 16.