MHRA clears third doses of AZ, Pfizer COVID jabs

The UK medicines regulator has cleared the use of a third dose of both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, in readiness for a possible booster campaign ahead of the winter months.

The decision means there is now no impediment to starting a booster drive – assuming the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommends such a programme and the government takes its advice.

The panel has not delivered a final verdict on how widely boosters should be offered, but has already recommended that third doses should be made available to fully vaccinated people who have severely weakened immune systems this autumn.

“We know that a person’s immunity may decline over time after their first vaccine course,” said MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine.

“This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme, which has saved thousands of lives so far,” she added. “It will now be for the JVCI to advise on whether booster jabs will be given and if so, which vaccines should be used.”

The approval comes as one of the scientists behind the AZ vaccine – Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University – told the Daily Telegraph that giving third doses widely is unnecessary and surplus doses in the UK should be sent to other countries.

“I don’t think we need to boost everybody. Immunity is lasting well in the majority of people,” she said, and there is a much greater benefit to be had in delivering a first dose to people elsewhere in the world.

Gilbert’s comments come shortly after AZ’s chief executive Pascal Soriot and head of biopharma R&D Mene Pangalos also cautioned against widespread use of booster doses, saying to do so could place unnecessary burden on the NHS over the winter.

The executives also called for a decision to be deferred until data emerges in the next few weeks on whether two doses can confer continued, protective immunity.

That includes the results of the Cov-Boost study which is testing boosters using all seven COVID-19 vaccines ordered by the UK government, including AZ’s Vaxzevria which has formed the backbone of the UK programme in older adults and the Pfizer/BioNTech shot which has been used in younger people.

Members of the were briefed on interim results from Cov-Boost yesterday, and although the data has not yet been made public it reportedly formed part of the MHRA’s decision to approve the AZ and Pfizer jab boosters.

Almost 89% of the UK population aged over 16 have had at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 66% have had both doses. The UK has ordered 540 million doses of vaccines, and has pledged to donate 100 million of them to lower-income countries in the coming months.

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