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Britain’s Vaccine Gamble

During the pandemic, the UK has led the way in studying pharmaceutical interventions, with well-designed randomized controlled studies enabling vast improvements in patient care globally. Yet, by deciding to increase the gap between vaccine doses, the country's government has effectively abandoned this evidence-based approach.

LONDON – The British have often taken great pride in dubious achievements, from the “victorious” retreat from Dunkirk during World War II to the bare-minimum Brexit agreement recently reached with the European Union. The development of a COVID-19 vaccine on British soil, however, was a genuine triumph. And yet, by delaying the delivery of second vaccine doses, the government is set to undercut this feat – and its overall pandemic-containment strategy.

The manufacturers of all three vaccines so far approved in the United Kingdom – the homegrown AstraZeneca/University of Oxford DNA vaccine, and the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines – recommend delivering the second dose 3-4 weeks after the first. And yet the UK government has decided to leave a 12-week gap between doses.

This decision’s defenders note that the first dose provides most of the initial protection from clinical disease, whereas the second dose is likely to be more important for duration of protection. Given the urgency of the public-health crisis – and the possibility of supply delays or shortages in the future – spreading limited doses more widely now seems like a better bet than fully inoculating a smaller group.