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UK vaccines adviser examining claims protection from first Pfizer jab could be as low as 33%

George Martin
·3-min read
Doctor Tom McAnea prepares to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre in St Columba's Church in Sheffield, south Yorkshire on January 23, 2021. - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed that 5.4 million people had now received their first dose of two vaccines currently being administered, with a daily record of 400,000 people inoculated in the last 24 hours. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
A doctor preparing to administer the vaccine in Sheffield. (Getty)

The deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said it is examining data from Israel indicating that immunity after a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine could be as low as 33%.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said he is examining data from a study carried out in Israel that appears to suggest two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are needed before high levels of immunity can be reached.

At the end of December, the JCVI, which is advising the government on the vaccine rollout, announced that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine was "around 90%", starting 14 days after the first dose.

It also claimed the “short-term protection from dose one is very high”.

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine are administered to people at Clalit Health Services, in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 23, 2021. - Israel began administering novel coronavirus vaccines to teenagers as it pushed ahead with its inoculation drive, with a quarter of the population now vaccinated, health officials said. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine are administered to people at Clalit Health Services in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Getty)

But Harnden said on Sunday that the Israeli study indicated that immunity after a first dose could be as low as 33%.

“The Israeli data is preliminary data, it does involve PCR testing, which is of course asymptomatic cases as well as symptomatic cases,” he said.

“They have not followed up for more than three weeks and the statistical methods they used are not clear.”

Read more: Government 'looking very carefully' at Pfizer vaccine after 'real world effectiveness' claims

He told Sky's Sophie Ridge On Sunday: “We will be looking at this in detail but at the moment our clear steer is the delayed second dose strategy is going to save many lives nationally.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health has since sought to clarify the initial remarks by Israel’s COVID tsar Nachman Ash. The ministry said in a statement: “The comments of the Israeli Covid-19 commissioner regarding the effect of the first dose of the vaccine were out of context and, therefore, inaccurate. The commissioner said we have yet to see a decrease in the number of severely ill patients."

Harnden predicted there would be a sharp fall-off in hospitalisations and deaths a few weeks after the first four priority groups had been offered their first dose of the vaccine.

“I am confident the government has secured enough vaccine and provided the manufacturers can keep up with the orders, then we will see good supply.”

Read more: Medical chief criticises people for jumping vaccine queue

On Sunday, health secretary Matt Hancock said three-quarters of all those over 80 in the UK had now been given their first jab, with a similar percentage received by those in care homes.

But Harnden warned that people could end up needing an annual coronavirus shot to keep up with variations in the virus.

“I think we have to get used to this,” he said.

“We are living in a world where coronavirus is so prevalent and rapidly mutating there are going to be new variants that pop up in all sorts of different countries.”

He added: “We may well be in a situation where we have to have an annual coronavirus vaccine much like we do with the flu vaccine, but the public should be reassured that these technologies are relatively easy to edit and tweak, so once we find strains that are predominant, the vaccines can be altered...

“It is really good news that these vaccines we are delivering do seem to be effective against the major circulating strains and the variant strains in the UK at the moment.”

Watch: What is Long Covid?