by Yashaswi Bista
Image: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash
The U.K. was one of the first countries to implement a COVID-19 vaccination plan. The country originally expected to release the second dose of the COVID vaccine three to four weeks after the first, but changes have now been made. The British government announced that citizens would wait twelve weeks for the second dose, with the intention of vaccinating as many people as possible with the first dose. However, this change of plan has been very controversial, even provoking debates in other countries.
The U.K.’s decision to delay the second dose of vaccination is understandable, considering the country’s great loss and difficulties during the pandemic—over 3 million cases and over 80,000 deaths. Currently, hospitals are struggling with growing admissions and infection rates of the new, highly transmissible coronavirus strain. These conditions forced the U.K. public health administration to consider delaying public access to the second vaccine dose. In a press conference, medical officials claimed that this new plan will “protect the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time”.
The vaccine’s producers, BioNTech and Pfizer, however, are unconvinced. They are concerned that the prolonged waiting time could render the vaccine ineffective. The companies said, “the safety and efficacy of the vaccine have not been evaluated on different dosing schedules as the majority of trial participants received the second dose within the window specified in the study design.” The companies believe that more data is necessary for conclusions with greater certainty.
In the U.K., many doctors and citizens also oppose the government’s decision. Dr. Alan Dow criticized it publicly, saying that “breaking consent with patients is close to moral injury.” His criticism is true, given that patients were uninformed about the stark difference between the recommended vaccination interval and the newly proposed plan. Dr. Dow also believes that this delay would lead to top priority groups like the high-risk citizens and the elderly population to opt-out of getting vaccinated. The British Medical Association calls this decision ‘unfair’ as large volumes of scheduled appointments must now be cancelled.
Globally, many are concerned with Great Britain’s current situation as well; they believe that the plan could have detrimental effects on public health. “It’s an act of desperation. It also contravenes the scientific protocols,” said an Israeli epidemiologist. Some even believe that British politicians lost their minds from the stress of dealing with COVID. John Moore, a vaccine expert at Cornell University said, “British Officials seem to have abandoned science completely now and are just trying to guess their way out of a mess.”
But even with all these criticisms, several countries, including Germany and Denmark, are considering the same approach. Many people now fear that the surge in COVID cases and the new virus variants would lead their own country to delay vaccination schedules.
Without any conclusive data on the consequences of this plan, the future is difficult to predict. The biggest concern, right now, is whether the vaccine would remain effective with longer intervals between doses. However, there is one definitive outcome of this decision: the growing anger at and disappointment towards the British government, not only among its citizens, but also globally. The future will reveal if the decision to delay the second vaccine dose was worth compromising the public confidence or not.