Listen to science: Administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to as many people as possible in IOM

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In early and mid-2020, as part of a global scientific effort to study the effects of potential coronavirus vaccines, various testing regimes were conducted to identify vaccine candidates. Because of the urgency to develop and deploy a vaccine as quickly as possible, vaccine developers wanted their trials to run as quickly as possible. Consequently, vaccine developers conducted testing with unusually short intervals between doses of vaccines. This was as short as 3-4 weeks in the cases of what are now known as the Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines. This contrasts with our historical scientific knowledge of vaccine boosters, which typically have much longer booster intervals for adults, measured in years.

In November and early December last year, scientists began to question whether 3 or 4 week intervals were optimal, given:

There is limited supply of the vaccine. It would obviously be better to give two people 60% or 70% protection from the virus than to give one person 90% protection from the virus.
Science's long-standing understanding of how vaccine boosters work, which has shown that longer intervals between doses is normally safe.
Over time, the scientific consensus has spread, and there is now widespread scientific agreement that increasing the interval between AstraZeneca vaccine doses is the safest option to save the most lives. It allows as many people as possible to get at least some protection as quickly as possible. This protection means that very few people will die from the Coronavirus disease after their first vaccine dose has taken effect.

The Scottish Government has said:

"The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent clincial group of experts that provides all Governments in the UK with advice on vaccinations, recommended a maximum interval between the first and second doses of 12 weeks for both the Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. This is in recognition of the very high levels of protection offered from the first dose, and that the increased transmission rate of the new strain of coronovirus poses a significant risk of increased case numbers and subsequent deaths."

Back on 1 January, Dr Gregor Smith, the Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, said: "For every 1000 people boosted with a second dose of covid-19 vaccine in January (who will as a result gain marginally on protection), 1000 new people would be delayed in receiving what amounts to very substantial initial protection which is in most cases is likely to raise them from 0% protected to at least 70% protected in typically 14-21 days."

On 26 January, the CEO of vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca said: "I think the UK one-dose strategy is absolutely the right way to go, at least for our vaccine...First of all, we believe that the efficacy of one dose is sufficient: 100 percent protection against severe disease and hospitalization, and 71-73 percent of efficacy overall. The second dose is needed for long term protection. But you get a better efficiency if you get the 2nd dose later than earlier."

On 10 February, the World Health Organisation said about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine: "According to the manufacturer’s product label, the vaccine can be administered with an interval of 4-12 weeks. In light of the observation that two-dose efficacy and immunogenicity increase with a longer interdose interval, WHO recommends an interval of 8 to 12 weeks between the doses."

The science is now clear. It is time to listen to the science. With thousands of vaccine doses currently sitting in storage in the Isle of Man, it is obvious that the limitation of vaccine doses is not supply. The limit is the willingness of the IOM Government to use the vaccine doses.

Consequently, we call on the Isle of Man Government to listen to the science and give the AstraZeneca vaccine to as many people as possible by prioritising first doses first.