Britain should park plans to dish out booster Covid vaccines and ship spare doses to poorer countries, one of the leading researchers behind Oxford University’s jab said today.
Sir Andrew Pollard argued it would be ‘difficult to justify’ giving out top-ups in the UK when rates are lagging behind so badly in low-income nations.
Fewer than one per cent of the world’s Covid vaccine supplies have gone to poorer nations so far.
Sir Andrew, who was knighted last month for his role running trials of the Oxford jab, also admitted ‘we do not have the evidence yet that we need boosters’.
Writing in EuroJournal today about No10’s plan to dish out top-up jabs this autumn, he said ‘it is very early to make the call’ because only six months have passed since the first batch of second doses were dished out.
‘If a booster is not needed yet, it may be better to wait, since they usually work better when given later,’ he added.
Professor Andrew Pollard called on ministers to shelve plans for a vaccine drive because so few people in poorer countries have been jabbed. This graph shows less than three per cent of people in Africa have got one dose (purple line), compared to 66 per cent in the UK (brown line) and 54 per cent in the US (pink line) which is also considering a third dose programme
Professor Andrew Pollard called for plans for a booster vaccine drive to be shelved
Around 32million Brits may be in line to receive a third jab in as little as two months, amid concern over a winter Covid wave.
The Government’s top scientists have set out plans for over-50s to get extra shots in September and beyond, although ministers are yet to sign them off.
It could see pharmacists give out Covid booster jabs at the same time as the yearly flu shot.
Who could be first in line for a third jab? How will the vaccines be dished out?
Millions of Britons could be offered a third Covid vaccine in September, No10’s top scientists have revealed.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) advice published last week paves the way for the programme to go ahead.
But it still needs to be rubberstamped by ministers before it can go ahead.
Scientists say the advice could ‘change substantially’ in the coming weeks.
Who could be offered a third Covid vaccine?
- All over-50s
- Frontline health and social care workers
- People who are vulnerable to the virus
- Adults living with vulnerable people
How might the booster programme work?
Should the ‘booster’ programme go ahead, it will see third doses dished out in two stages.
In stage one third jabs will be offered to:
- All over-70s
- Over-16s who are vulnerable to the virus
- People living in care homes for older adults
- Frontline health and social care workers
And in stage two third jabs will be offered to:
- All over-50s
- Adults aged 16 to 49 who are vulnerable to flu
- Adults living with suppressed individuals such as those receiving cancer treatment
Vaccines are not perfect. Thousands of fully vaccinated Britons have already been struck down with the Indian Delta variant, which began spreading rapidly in May.
But the current jabs are highly effective and have dramatically severed the link between infection and severe illness, with hospitalisations and deaths yet to spiral at the same pace as cases.
Sir Andrew admitted some scientists, including himself, were worried about the body making fewer antibodies against mutant strains such as Delta.
But he said such fears ‘may not be justified’ because other key parts of the immune system will remember how to fight off the virus.
Writing in EuroJournal, Sir Andrew said: ‘Our immune system never forgets those doses we’ve had.
‘It is ready to spring into action if we meet the virus in the future. Immune memory can last a lifetime.’
And discussing plans to dish out top-up jabs on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: ‘We haven’t got evidence so far that we do need boosters.’
Sir Andrew, who is also chair of the JCVI — a panel of scientists advising ministers on Covid jabs, said it was a ‘danger to us all’ to leave poorer countries unvaccinated.
‘This catastrophe is not just someone else’s problem, it is a danger to us all, allowing new variants to emerge, destabilising global economies and disrupting travel,’ he wrote.
‘Many living in these countries will not even get a first dose this year.
‘It is difficult to justify getting a third dose to ourselves, especially if not clearly needed, ahead of zero-doze people whose lives remain at risk.’
Fewer than three per cent of people in Africa have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Oxford-backed stats website Our World in Data.
For comparison, 66 per cent of people in the UK and 54 per cent of people in the US — which is also considering a booster programme — have got one dose. In the EU, 51 per cent of people have got at least one dose.
It comes after an Oxford University study found last week that third booster doses led to spikes in Covid-fighting antibodies.
But Sir Andrew, who was behind that study, said that was not sufficient evidence the extra jabs would be needed.
Vaccines train the immune system to fight the virus, teaching the body to produce virus-fighting antibodies for when the real pathogen comes along.
Antibody levels can fall naturally over time — but experts insist this is not necessarily proof booster jabs are needed.
They say other parts of the immune system — such as T-cells — will be able to fight off the virus.
Nearly 45.3million Britons — or 86 per cent of adults — have got at least one dose of the vaccine, and 33.6million —or 63.8 per cent — have got both jabs.
An Oxford University study published last week found third doses boosted antibody levels. The green vertical lines show participants’ antibody levels when they were given the first vaccine (V1), 28 days after that (V1+28 days), the second jab (V2), 28 days after that jab (V2+28 days), the third booster injection (V3), 14 days after that (V3+14) and 28 days after the booster (V3+28). The findings show that the antibody response increased after each jab and were at their highest, by a small margin, 28 days after the booster injection