The UK government should hold off its plan to roll out CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus booster vaccines for England’s adult population until more data is accrued, the CEO of AstraZeneca said.
Writing in The Telegraph with Executive Vice President Sir Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot said that it’s not yet clear whether a booster shot is clinically necessary.
AstraZeneca is the developer of the UK’s own CCP virus vaccine in collaboration with Oxford University.
According to Soriot and Pangalos, clinical trials have shown a strong immune response up to 45 weeks after a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, a high level of T-cells that are critical for lasting immunity, and that a third dose boosted antibody levels six-fold with a continued strong T-cell response.
But the scientists are yet to find out what mix of antibodies and T-cells are needed to prevent serious illness from CCP virus infections, they said.
“This is why we need the weight of the clinical evidence gathered from real-world use before we can make an informed decision on a third dose,” Soriot and Pangalos wrote.
The pharmaceutical bosses acknowledged that it may be a “sensible immediate precaution” to give the shots to the “very elderly” and the immunocompromised, but argued that the decision on giving booster shots to the whole population needs to be clinically driven to avoid adding unnecessary burden to the NHS and throwing away the chance to collect real-world clinical effectiveness data.
Low-and middle-income countries that struggle to procure vaccines have an even greater need for these data, Soriot and Pangalos said.
Their comments come after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs a vaccine booster programme is “ready to go” as soon as the scientific advice for the scheme is signed off.
More than half a million people with severely weakened immune systems and who are most at risk from COVID-19 will be offered another vaccine dose beginning this month, following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
But that announcement is separate from any decision on a booster programme, with news on this expected soon.
Zahawi added that he hopes the virus can be dealt with “year in, year out” without having to take the “severe measures” seen last December, telling BBC Breakfast: “Vaccines have given us the ability to reduce infections, to save 100,000 lives.”
The UK’s chief medical officers are currently reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds, such as minimising school absences, after the JCVI declined to recommend a widespread rollout to the age group on health grounds alone.
PA contributed to this report.