BGS statement on COVID-19 vaccines

06 January 2021

The BGS welcomed the UK Government’s announcement of the start of its COVID-19 vaccination programme in mid-December 2020. Older people have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the severity of their COVID symptoms and high mortality rates. They were prioritised to receive the vaccine as part of the wider strategy to protect the population from the risk of COVID infection.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MRHA) and the first vaccine dose was given on 8 December, in line with the prioritisation set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). 

The BGS published a response along with links to government advice to inform members about the plans for rolling-out the new vaccine. We will continue to provide regular updates on the evolving situation on the COVID-19 vaccination page.

A second vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca (Oxford), has now been approved. This is an important boost to the vaccination effort, given that a new variant of COVID has emerged which is more rapidly transmitted between people. The JCVI has issued revised recommendations on the roll-out of the two vaccines, and, in particular, has confirmed that the priority in the short term is to give first doses to more people, rather than first and second doses to a smaller number of people. The JCVI places a high priority on promoting rapid, high levels of vaccine uptake amongst vulnerable people.

The BGS supports the statement made by the Chief Medical Officers of the four countries of the UK on 30 December, and their subsequent letter to the profession. This explains the modelling behind the JCVI recommendation to prioritise first doses and to lengthen the interval between the two doses. At this stage of the pandemic, they say that prioritising the first doses of vaccine for as many people as possible on the priority list will protect the greatest number of at-risk people overall in the shortest possible time and will have the greatest impact on reducing mortality, severe disease and hospitalisations and in protecting the NHS and equivalent health services. This paper explains the efficacy levels of the two vaccines under this new approach.

The BGS recognises this represents a change in the advice and will require those involved in the vaccination roll-out in primary, community and acute care, to alter the schedule for follow-up doses. We think it is the right course of action to take in order to reach more people who are vulnerable to serious complications from COVID in a shorter period of time. It is however essential that there are systems in place to ensure the administration of the second dose of the vaccine within the 12 week window to provide longer term protection.

In addition, given the change in the dosing schedule, we call for reassurance that follow up studies to monitor both immune response and clinical effectiveness of this change in dosing are underway and will be reported for analysis and scrutiny. This will reassure the public about the longer term vaccination strategy.

We would encourage all those offered the vaccine to accept it, regardless of their feelings on the new schedule. Vaccination, in whatever form, remains preferable to no vaccination and will reduce the incidence and harmful effects of COVID. Older people, and those providing care for them, should continue to feel confident that they will benefit from the vaccine.

We are grateful to the huge number of health professionals, support workers and volunteers who are helping to deliver the UK vaccination response.