Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair is urging the government to give as many people as possible an initial dose of a Covid vaccine — rather than preserving stocks so there is enough for second jabs. Credit: File photo.

Is the UK doing it wrong?

One former British politician thinks so, and the consequences could be massive.

Former prime minister Tony Blair’s call for the UK to overhaul its current Covid-19 vaccination strategy and give more people a single dose of vaccine rather than reserving the second dose has received a mixed reception from scientists, The Telegraph reported.

Writing in the Independent newspaper Blair said the current vaccination strategy needed to be “altered and radically accelerated” as on the current trajectory the vast majority of the country would not be vaccinated until early spring or summer.

“The economic and health damage, physical and mental, caused by such a timetable will be colossal,” he said. 

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently being rolled out to the most vulnerable people in the UK. It requires two doses, given two weeks apart, CGTN.com reported.

However, Blair says the government should give as many people as possible one dose of the vaccine – rather than preserving stocks so there is enough for a second injection. 

But scientists have expressed concern that this would affect the length of immunity afforded by the jab, CGTN.com reported.

Writing in his column for the Independent, Blair said: “The logic behind age is naturally heightened risk of mortality. But if it is the spread we’re anxious about, then it makes sense to consider vaccinating those doing the spreading, in particular certain occupations or age groups such as students.”

He added: “Revisit the logistics plan to see if we can’t radically increase the volume of vaccination. If the vaccines are available, is it really impossible – given the gravity of our plight – to cover a majority of the population by the end of February?”

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot which is expected to be approved for use soon. That vaccine also requires two doses, CGTN.com reported. 

However, Peter Horby, who chairs the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told the Commons select committee earlier this week: “You can’t assume that one dose is as good or half as good or whatever as good as two doses, because the data you have is on two doses.”

The former prime minister later told BBC Radio 4’s program it should be a priority to give as many people as possible some protection, The Telegraph reported.

While ideally people should receive the required two doses, he said, the question is: “Does the first dose give you substantial immunity, and by that I mean over 50 per cent effectiveness? If it does, there is a very strong case for not, as it were, holding back doses of the vaccine.

“If, in January, AstraZeneca is delivering you 10 or 20 million doses of the vaccine, you vaccinate 10 or 20 million people.

“You should get more vaccine coming on stream by the time you are ready for the second dose and that first dose can give you substantial immunity,” he said. 

CGTN spoke to Paul Hunter, who is a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia.

He says that while giving as many people as possible one dose is “not a stupid idea,” it would be a risky approach as there isn’t yet any data informing medical experts how long immunity would last using that process.

He said: “One of the reasons why we have a second dose is as much to do with extending the period of immunity as it is to actually boosting the protection of the first shot.”

Hunter says that there would also need to be regulatory approval for the UK to change the way the vaccine is administered.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said the plan was “ridiculous,” adding there was no evidence that giving just one dose would confer benefits. 

“It’s highly questionable whether there would be any tangible benefits. People wouldn’t know whether they had their best chance of protection,” he said.

He added that there was still no evidence that even with full dosing either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine would prevent virus transmission. 

He added: “It sends out a really, really bad message that politicians can manipulate the approval of drugs. The responsibility of doses is down to the regulator. How does Tony Blair think he’s qualified to comment on this?”