The deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said it is examining data from Israel indicating that immunity after a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine could be as low as 33%.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said he is examining data from a study carried out in Israel that appears to suggest two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are needed before high levels of immunity can be reached.
At the end of December, the JCVI, which is advising the government on the vaccine rollout, announced that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine was "around 90%", starting 14 days after the first dose.
It also claimed the “short-term protection from dose one is very high”.
But Harnden said on Sunday that the Israeli study indicated that immunity after a first dose could be as low as 33%.
“The Israeli data is preliminary data, it does involve PCR testing, which is of course asymptomatic cases as well as symptomatic cases,” he said.
“They have not followed up for more than three weeks and the statistical methods they used are not clear.”
He told Sky's Sophie Ridge On Sunday: “We will be looking at this in detail but at the moment our clear steer is the delayed second dose strategy is going to save many lives nationally.”
Israel’s Ministry of Health has since sought to clarify the initial remarks by Israel’s COVID tsar Nachman Ash. The ministry said in a statement: “The comments of the Israeli Covid-19 commissioner regarding the effect of the first dose of the vaccine were out of context and, therefore, inaccurate. The commissioner said we have yet to see a decrease in the number of severely ill patients."
Harnden predicted there would be a sharp fall-off in hospitalisations and deaths a few weeks after the first four priority groups had been offered their first dose of the vaccine.
“I am confident the government has secured enough vaccine and provided the manufacturers can keep up with the orders, then we will see good supply.”
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On Sunday, health secretary Matt Hancock said three-quarters of all those over 80 in the UK had now been given their first jab, with a similar percentage received by those in care homes.
But Harnden warned that people could end up needing an annual coronavirus shot to keep up with variations in the virus.
“I think we have to get used to this,” he said.
“We are living in a world where coronavirus is so prevalent and rapidly mutating there are going to be new variants that pop up in all sorts of different countries.”
He added: “We may well be in a situation where we have to have an annual coronavirus vaccine much like we do with the flu vaccine, but the public should be reassured that these technologies are relatively easy to edit and tweak, so once we find strains that are predominant, the vaccines can be altered...
“It is really good news that these vaccines we are delivering do seem to be effective against the major circulating strains and the variant strains in the UK at the moment.”
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