The boss of COVID vaccine maker AstraZeneca has said booster jabs may not be needed for everyone in the UK.
Chief executive Pascal Soriot said a nationwide rollout of third doses could put additional pressures on the NHS during the winter.
Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Soriot and senior colleague Sir Mene Pangalos said: “A third dose for all may be needed, but it may not. Mobilising the NHS for a boosting programme that is not needed would potentially add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months.
“Because NHS staff and resources are scarce, another national mobilisation would potentially leave us with fewer resources for cancer screenings and the other care provided by doctors and nurses each day.”
Mr Soriot and Sir Mene, the company’s executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D, also said the UK was still “a few weeks away” from being able to decide whether to push ahead with a widespread booster rollout.
By then, it would have been six months since the first people in the UK had their second jabs back in March, so the data would give “a clearer picture of the immune response needed to provide continued, protective immunity”.
So far in the UK, a total of 43,535,098 people aged 16 and over have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine (80.1%) and 48,292,811 have been given one jab (88.8%), according to government data.
It comes as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on who should possibly get a third dose, is said to be awaiting results from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust’s Cov-Boost study, which is trialling seven different booster jabs.
Data was expected to be presented to the JCVI this week and their decision could be published within days, according to the Telegraph.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News on Tuesday the booster programme was his “absolute priority” as it will “absolutely help us to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic status”.
But the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Abhanom Ghebreyesus, said last month that booster shots in developed countries should be delayed to raise vaccination rates globally.
The potential booster programme in the UK would give those most at risk from coronavirus extra protection ahead of the winter.
It would be designed to extend the already strong protection an individual has received from their first and second jabs.
The Telegraph also claims a decision is expected as soon as Wednesday from the UK’s chief medical officers on whether to offer jabs to healthy 12 to 15-year-olds.
They are reviewing the wider benefits of vaccinating that age group, such as minimising school absences, after the JCVI declined to recommend a widespread rollout to the cohort on health grounds alone.
In the Telegraph article, Mr Soriot and Sir Mene wrote of their vaccine: “Clinical trials have shown a strong immune response up to 45 weeks after a second dose, in particular a high level of T-cells which are critical for a lasting immunity.
“A third dose boosted antibody levels six-fold with a continued strong T-cell response, but we do not yet know whether that third dose is clinically needed.”
They added: “Indeed, we don’t know what mix of antibodies and T-cells are needed to prevent serious illness – the so-called correlates of protection. 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.
“Thankfully, we are now only a few weeks away from being able to come to a view given that six months will have passed since people in the UK began to get their second jabs in March.”
They continued: “This new data will give us a clearer picture of the immune response needed to provide continued, protective immunity. It will help differentiate between infections with mild symptoms versus more serious infections.
“Moving too quickly to boost across the entire adult population will deprive us of these insights, leaving this important decision to rest on limited data.”
Last month, the UK agreed to buy 35 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a way to “future-proof” the jabs programme.