Knowing how to combine Covid-19 vaccines will put UK ‘in leadership position’

Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter
·3-min read

Knowing how to mix Covid-19 vaccine doses will put the UK in a leadership position when it comes to helping the world tackle the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.

He said that understanding more about how to use different coronavirus jabs together will also allow the nation to hold a “much stronger position” in its own vaccination programme.

It comes as a first-of-its-kind study is launched in the UK to determine whether different coronavirus vaccines can safely be used for the first and second doses.

The research will initially include the Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, with more jabs added to the list once approved.

Mr Zahawi said that the trial would not have an impact on deployment of Covid-19 vaccines in the UK.

He told Sky News: “If you have currently had the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, you will get your Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as your second dose, your booster dose.

“And of course if you have the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, you’ll get the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

“This is more longer-term, keeping us ahead of – at least in a leadership position, I should say – in the world, in helping the whole world because no-one is safe until we are all safe.

“If we understand more about how we can use vaccines together then we should be in a much stronger position in terms of vaccinating the United Kingdom, but also the rest of the world.”

The Com-Cov study, which has received £7 million in funding through the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce, will investigate whether a mixed-dose vaccine regimen is better than, or a good alternative to, using two doses of the same Covid-19 jab.

If findings show the combined effect of the jabs is safe and induces immune response, the researchers said it would make vaccine implementation more flexible and lay the groundwork for introducing additional booster doses.

Lead scientist Dr Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford and chief investigator in the Com-Cov study, said: “If somebody turns up to have their second vaccine and they’ve already received say the Pfizer vaccine and it’s not available that day then can they receive the Oxford vaccine as an alternative. And vice versa, of course.

“That would greatly improve the flexibility of delivery.

“It is good medicine to make sure you have flexibility in what you can do and that you’re protecting against any future problems.

“We’re looking to see if immunising with a mixed schedule is as good as immunising with the straight approved schedule.”

He said that animal studies suggest that a schedule of mixed Covid-19 vaccine doses produces a better antibody (proteins that are formed in the body to counteract infection) response when compared to using two doses of the same vaccine.

Prof Snape said: “This is new and this is exciting, it will be the first study looking at using the RNA vaccine, which is the Pfizer/BioNTech one, and a viral vector vaccine which is the Oxford/AstraZeneca one in the same schedule.”

The Com-Cov study will also investigate whether mixing doses will offer protection against coronavirus variants.

More than 800 people aged 50 and above will take part, with early results expected in June – in time to inform policy use of booster vaccines among younger age groups.

Prof Snape said the participants will include those who have underlying health conditions – such as diabetes and heart disease.

He said: “We are looking to enrol adults aged 50 and over, allowing those who have mild-to-moderate comorbidities. And we’re aiming to have recruitment from the black and minority ethnic communities that is representative of the UK population.”