But the decision was being discussed in the medical community, and the president of the British Medical Association (BMA) called on ministers to follow “best practice” and reduce the waiting time for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Pfizer / BioNTech recommended that the second dose be given 21 days after the first and said there was no evidence to support a 12-week difference.
“What we are saying is that the United Kingdom must adopt this best practice based on international professional opinion,” BMA President Dr Chaand Nagpol said on Saturday. The organization has sent a letter to the chief medical officer of the United Kingdom Chris Whitty, warning of the delay.
“Most countries in the world face challenges similar to the UK, due to the limited supply of vaccines and the desire to protect their populations as much as possible,”
In a statement to CNN, a BMA spokesman said the letter informed Whitty of “the growing concern of the medical profession about delaying the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech as the UK’s strategy becomes increasingly isolated from many other countries”.
The group also told CNN that they were concerned about the availability of the vaccine in the coming weeks, saying their members believed that “given the unpredictability of deliveries, there may be no guarantee that second doses of Pfizer will be available in 12 weeks.”
“The association is urging (the chief medical officer) to urgently review the UK’s current position on second doses after 12 weeks,” they said.
Public Health England’s medical director Yvonne Doyle defended the plan, telling the BBC on Saturday that the virus needed to be brought under control.
“The more people are protected against this virus, the less likely it is to take over. Protecting more people is the right thing to do,” she said.
The Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine has been used in the UK since early December, when it became the first country in the world to approve it.
When Britain first announced its plans, Pfizer said it had no evidence that just one dose of its vaccine would provide protection against the disease in more than 21 days.
“The Pfizer and BioNTech Phase 3 study for the Covid-19 vaccine was designed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, following a 2-dose schedule divided into 21 days,” Pfizer said in a statement last month. “There is no evidence to suggest that protection is maintained after 21 days after the first dose.”
But top medical officials for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland explained the move in a letter to healthcare professionals after the vaccine was approved, saying it was based on a “risk-benefit balance” and that the “vast majority” of initial protection came from the first blow.
The debate comes as Covid-19 deaths jump in the UK. As new cases dwindle after Britain entered a third blockade this month, the country reported its highest daily death rate in the world on Wednesday with 1,820 deaths, for a total of 97,517, according to Johns Hopkins University.