Second Covid vaccine dose: how long is the gap between jabs, has it changed - and what’s the science behind it?

Many people across the UK are being called back for their second coronavirus vaccination of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab

More than 15 million people in the UK have received both first and second doses of a Covid vaccine.

The figure marks a third of the adult population across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and offers encouragement to the government’s vaccine rollout.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

It comes after Boris Johnson moved to reassure people there will be no delays in receiving a second dose of the Covid vaccine, despite supply issues in April.

Top Pfizer / BioNtech scientist has weighed in on the debate of how much time should be allowed between administering the first and second doses of Covid vaccines. (Pic: Shutterstock)

The prime minister said the UK vaccine rollout was still on track to hit its targets in the wake of a hold up of AstraZeneca jabs expected to arrive from India.

Read More

Read More
Which is the best vaccine to get? Efficacy and side effects of Pfizer, Oxford an...

What's the gap between the first and second vaccine dose?

Following the UK's approval of the Pfizer vaccine on 2 December, the initial plan was to give priority groups a second dose three weeks after the individual received their first.

Yet increasing infection rates, hospital admissions and new variants of the virus - including a more transmissible strain from South Africa - prompted a change in thinking.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent expert advisory committee, worked out that more people could get a first dose of the vaccine if the UK were to delay the administering of the second of up to 12 weeks.

It is hoped that more doses of vaccines will be available by then, while also offering more vulnerable people protection against the deadly virus.

Why is a second dose needed?

The second jab, which will now be administered within 12 weeks of the first, acts as a booster to strengthen the immune response and increase the length of protection.

The first Pfizer jab provides 91 percent protection against Covid, according to professor David Salisbury, who was in charge of immunisation at the Department of Health until 2013.

He said: “If you look at the New England Journal of Medicine paper about the Pfizer vaccine... you give one dose and you get 91 percent protection, you give two doses and you get 95 percent. So you are only gaining four per cent for giving the second dose.

“With the current circumstances, I would strongly urge that you should use as many first doses as you possibly can for risk groups and only after you have done all of that come back with second doses.”

The Pfizer jab provides 95 percent protection after the second dose.

The Oxford jab has proven to be 62 percent effective after two doses, with a small group of people receiving 90 percent protection when half a dose and a full dose is provided.

Why is there concern?

Volunteers in both the Oxford and Pfizer trials were given two doses each.

The impact of stretching out the doses hasn't been tested during the trials and neither has mixing up the doses, which could see one person receive a Pfizer vaccine followed by the Oxford vaccine.

The JCVI said the mixing of vaccines would only happen in "exceptional circumstances", such as supply and availability.

What has the WHO said?

Yet the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned against delaying the second dose of the vaccine.

Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (Sage), said the second dose should only be delayed in “exceptional circumstances”.

He said: “We deliberated and came out with the following recommendation: two doses of this [Pfizer] vaccine within 21-28 days.

“Sage made a provision for countries in exceptional circumstances of [Pfizer] vaccine supply constraints to delay the administration of the second dose for a few weeks in order to maximise the number of individuals benefiting from a first dose.”

And added: “I think we have to be a bit open to these types of decisions which countries have to make according to their own epidemiological situations.”