Pfizer claims immunity from its Covid vaccine is starting to fade and wants THIRD dose to be dished out after six months – but British scientists insist there’s no proof top-up is needed yet
- Third dose generated 10 times more neutralising antibodies than two doses
- Pfizer and BioNTech will ask regulators to approve a third dose within weeks
- But UK scientists have repeatedly said there is no evidence boosters are needed
Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla has consistently stated that he believes Americans will need a third dose, and has even suggested the vaccine will become annual like the flu shot
Pfizer has called for a third dose of its vaccine to be dished out to offer the ‘highest levels’ of protection against Covid variants.
A booster jab six months after the second generated five to 10 times more neutralising antibodies than just two doses, Pfizer and BioNTech announced yesterday.
The firms will submit evidence to regulators in the US and Europe within weeks, in hope of getting the top-up jab approved.
But scientists have repeatedly warned that there is no evidence that a third shot is not needed.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that 55.8 per cent of Americans over 12 are fully vaccinated, so do not need to concern themselves with booster doses.
But Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla has consistently said he believes people will need a third dose, and has even suggested the vaccine will become annual like the flu shot.
It comes as No10 is continuing to plan for a Covid booster programme later this year, but said its final decision on the jabs will be based on ongoing clinical trials and advice from medical experts.
There are fears immunity given by the vaccines may be waning because of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant.
Israel’s Government said the strain reduced protection from the Pfizer jab by around a third after cases increased by 5,900% in under 40 days.
Pfizer said this data shows its injection offers less protection against transmission and illness after six months, which is why a third dose is needed.
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 The Times 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.
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.
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 The Times, 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.’
Pfizer and BioNTech said clinical trials found that the third dose, given six months after the second should, generated levels of neutralizing antibodies five to 10 times higher than the initial two doses.
What’s more, the companies say they are planning to tweak the booster shot to target the Indian ‘Delta’ variant directly as it continues to spread.
The companies said they plan to publish ‘more definitive data’ soon and submit it for approval to regulators.
The companies said they believe their booster shot has the potential to offer the ‘highest levels’ of protection against all variants, including the Indian Delta variant.
However, scientists are ‘remaining vigilant’ and are developing an updated version of the third dose.
The companies’ statement references a study from Israel that showed a decrease in efficacy against variant six months after being fully vaccinated.
‘As seen in real world evidence released from the Israel Ministry of Health, vaccine efficacy has declined six months post-vaccination, at the same time that the Delta variant is becoming the dominant variant in the country,’ the companies said in a written statement.
‘These findings are consistent with an ongoing analysis from the companies’ Phase 3 study.’
Data showed that the vaccine still offered significant protection against severe disease, but that efficacy against symptomatic disease declined due to variants.
‘That is why we have said, and we continue to believe that it is likely, based on the totality of the data we have to date, that a third dose may be needed within six to 12 months after full vaccination,’ the statement read.
The company said it is currently working on clinical trial materials for a booster shot to target the variant with plans to begin studies in August.
Officials at Moderna Inc, which is also testing a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, have made similar comments about Americans needing booster shots.
‘Booster shots will be needed as we believe the virus is not going away,’ Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told investors during an earnings call in May.
The Delta variant – which is the dominant strain in the UK – led to a massive increase of cases in Israel.
The country’s health chiefs claim the jab blocks 64 per cent of infections, compared to 94 per cent in May before the mutant strain took hold. Ministers described the data as ‘disturbing’.
Despite this, the CDC and US Food and Drug Administration said: ‘We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.’
The UK is planning for Covid boosters in the autumn, but have not yet made a final decision on whether to administer to everyone.
The Government said its decision will be based on data from ongoing clinical trials, such as the Cov-Boost trial, and the independent advice from the medical experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
But it announced last week that over-50s and anyone over 16 who qualifies for the flu jab will get a third Covid injection, equating to more than 30 million people.
Oxford University’s Andrew Pollard, who ran trials for the AstraZeneca jab, said: ‘We haven’t got evidence so far that we do need boosters.
‘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.’
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