Scientists in the UK have begun the world’s first ever study to examine whether different coronavirus vaccines can be used together safely for two-dose regimens, a tactic which could potentially provide extra flexibility and even boost protection against the virus if approved.
The UK Department of Health and Social Care revealed in a news release this week that participants in the study, which will last 13 months, will be administered with the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines in various combinations and intervals.
“If we do show that these vaccines can be used interchangeably in the same schedule, this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery, and could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains,” said Matthew Snape, chief investigator and associate professor in pediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford.
“Nothing will be approved for use more widely than the study, or as part of our vaccine deployment program, until researchers and the regulator are absolutely confident the approach is safe and effective,” he said.
Participants in the study have already begun to be enrolled and according to the news release, preliminary results are expected over the summer.
The UK government also revealed that its current vaccine dosing system for the general public will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. Should the study show promising results, however, the government would consider revising the regimen, according to the release.
As well as testing the efficacy of a combination of the vaccines, the study will also attempt to ascertain whether a vaccination is more effective with a four-week or 12-week gap between the two doses. More than 800 people will take part in the trial and will begin receiving their shots by mid-February.
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said that given the challenges of rolling out mass vaccination of populations and “potential global supply constraints,” there were advantages to having data to support a more flexible immunization program, if needed and approved by the regulator.
“It is also even possible that by combining vaccines, the immune response could be enhanced giving even higher antibody levels that last longer; unless this is evaluated in a clinical trial we just won’t know,” said Van-Tam.
Official guidance from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization currently states that the second dose should be with the same vaccine as the first.
However, in certain circumstances, for example when a patient attends a site for a second vaccination and the first is either unknown or unavailable, it is ‘reasonable to offer one dose of the locally available product to complete the schedule’, according to the guidance.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization do not currently recommend interchanging coronavirus vaccines, since no data is currently available that examines whether doing so would still provide the same level of protection.
This week in the US, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave updates on Biden’s plan for Covid relief and how vaccination efforts are going.
Republicans and Democrats continue to fail to agree upon a financial relief package for the country, meaning the all-important financial support is currently being withheld from those who need it the most.
“Today President Biden joined the house democratic caucus meeting by phone to discuss the American Rescue Plan,” Psaki said.
“The president made clear that the American rescue plan was designed to meet the stakes of the public health and economic crisis and the president caucus agreed that a final package must address the crisis facing working families, including housing and food insecurity and reopening schools.
“President Biden said the cost of inaction and doing too little is greater than the cost of doing too much. The president also had the opportunity to meet in the oval office just a few minutes ago with leader Schumer and the democratic chairs of the senate committees with jurisdiction over the American Rescue Plan, as part of his ongoing engagement with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
“During the meeting, they had a productive conversation on the status of legislative proceedings on the package. They were in agreement over the need to move swiftly to ensure that we get $1,400 direct payments to middle and working class Americans as quickly as possible, that we need to take steps to get immediate relief to the Americans who are struggling with food insecurity or facing eviction and that we need to provide more resources to get shots into arms faster. The president and the senators were also in agreement over the need to go big and to meet the challenges we face with a response that will get the job done in beating this virus and in protecting our economy from long-term damage.”