NHS hospitals could be banned from giving out Covid vaccines if they don’t stick to the strategy of delaying second doses by three months or longer.
An internal memo sent to staff at a hospital in Southampton and seen by The Independent warned that second doses must not be given out too soon.
The Government in Britain has gone against vaccine manufacturers’ instructions to space out the first and second doses of Covid-19 vaccines by 12 weeks or more instead of the recommended three weeks.
The controversial decision was made to try and stretch the limited supply of jabs to cover as many people as possible, rather than offering stronger protection for a smaller number.
But it has drawn sharp criticism from scientists and doctors, with medics now writing to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi to urge them to rethink the policy.
The Doctors’ Association UK said no studies had been done to prove a single dose of a vaccine, or two spaced very far apart, would reliably prevent cases of Covid-19.
It comes as Matt Hancock today boasted that Britain has given more than 5million doses to 4.6million people across the UK – around one in every 14 people.
William Shakespeare, 81, was one of the first people in Britain to receive a Covid vaccine. He is pictured at a hospital in Coventry last year
Staff at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, The Independent reports, received an email that said: ‘This has become of the highest political import. David French, our CEO, has been sent a letter which is absolutely crystal clear and leaves nothing to the imagination – we are not to offer any second vaccines before 12 weeks under any circumstances, at risk of losing our licence.
‘This is not at the present time negotiable in any way. A region near us has given 34 second doses and are being investigated centrally.’
A spokesperson for University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust told The Independent: ‘No vaccine has been wasted as we have progressed through our first dose programme, offering a second dose 12 weeks after the first, which is in line with national guidance.’
NHS England denied the claim that hospitals would lose their vaccination licences for not following the rules, but declined to comment.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which sets the ground-rules for the vaccine programme, has said the country should get first doses of the jabs to as many people as possible.
Although a single dose of the two-dose vaccine regimes will not offer as much protection, it may still prevent many people from getting Covid-19.
The JCVI claims that one dose of Pfizer’s vaccine could prevent as many as 89 per cent of illnesses.
But new data emerging in Israel suggest this initial dose’s protection could be as low as 33 per cent, meaning two thirds of people given the single vaccine dose could still catch Covid if they were exposed to the virus.
This has not yet been verified in a publicly available scientific study, but raises concerns about Britain’s strategy.
When the UK made the decision to split the doses with a wider gap than Pfizer had intended, both the company and the World Health Organization refused to endorse the policy because they said there was no proof the jab would still work.
Now, angry doctors have written to the Government to urge them to rethink.
Doctors’ Association UK has warned the move risks patients’ health and there is no reliable science to prove the vaccines work when given in this way.
The organisation gave its warnings in a letter address to health bosses including Matt Hancock, Professor Chris Whitty, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, and Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, The Times reports.
It said: ‘We must be clear that it is completely unacceptable to ignore the need for a second vaccination.
‘All studies confirm the need for this to provide reliable and lasting immunity.
‘It must be noted that there is currently no data around the reliability of the immune response if vaccines are interchanged.’
They added: ‘We understand the rationale for the delay in scheduling the Pfizer-BioNTech second dosing from three to 12 weeks.
‘The concerns arise from decisions being made without acknowledging the consequences of enacting them on the front line.
‘We are concerned that there are no clear plans to follow up and monitor the immunity of these patients, to ensure the 12-week booster will be adequate, given that this schedule goes against the advice of both the manufacturer and WHO.’