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A vaccine that potentially does not work as well as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is still likely to be given to people in the UK in the interests of saving lives at speed, government scientific advisers have said.
The UK has invested heavily in the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is likely to reveal its first efficacy data this month. Pfizer and BioNTech have reported 90% efficacy in preventing people from becoming ill, but the UK will not get more than a small amount of that vaccine before next year. It could end up in the position of having more doses available of a vaccine with less efficacy.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said such vaccines would probably be needed in the interests of speed.
“As a society, as a collection of individuals living together, we need speed of delivery. And we need very high uptake in the groups … most at risk of dying or having complicated disease,” he said at a briefing. “So it’s speed, and also high uptake, that are important. And I think in this space we’ve got to understand that it would be very easy to let the perfect become the enemy of the good here.”
He said it would be wrong anyway to make a decision preferring vaccine A over vaccine B on the basis of early findings on efficacy. The Pfizer/BioNTech trial will continue into December to gather more results, with a target of 164 infections among trial participants rather than the interim 94.
“The 90% is a first estimate of effectiveness. That could change up, it could change down by the time the final results from the trial are ready,” Van-Tam said. “And I think it’ll be like that with all of the vaccines. They’ll do this interim readout, it’ll give us a sense of how effective these vaccines are, but we won’t have any finalised figures for quite some time. And we’ll want to be delivering them long before we have those absolutely final data, which, to my mind might well be as late as summer next year.”
Prof Wei Shen Lim, of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation, which will decide who gets the vaccines and in what order, said the first people to be vaccinated would be elderly residents and staff of care homes, because they were at highest risk.
He said it was important to consider how to ensure vaccine protection is given to people from minority ethnic groups. “We know that there has been a disproportionate representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups for severe Covid disease, and the underlying factors behind that association are complex. They include social factors and societal factors … we know there are more black, Asian and minority ethnic groups represented in healthcare and in social care, for instance,” he said.
“A lot of these social and societal factors also describe health inequalities. And one of the opportunities we should take with this vaccination programme is to try and mitigate these health inequalities. That’s done not simply by prioritisation, but it’s by tailoring our implementation in such a way that every patient group or people group are able to have access to vaccines to the best advantage.”
Van-Tam said it could not yet be known how soon life could return to normal after a vaccine is licensed, and he cast doubts over claims that it could be as soon as Easter.
“We don’t yet know if this vaccine is going to prevent transmission as well as preventing illness, and from that perspective it would be wrong of me to give you a sense that whoever told you that will be completely back to normal by Easter is right,” he said. “I don’t think I know the answer to that. I think I can tell you that I’m very hopeful of that over time. Vaccines will make a very important difference to how we have to live with Covid-19 in the long run.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Speed trumps efficacy in UK’s Covid vaccine rollout, say advisers | Health