Some family doctors in Britain said on Thursday that they would defy the government’s instructions to push back patients’ appointments for a second dose of coronavirus vaccine, a signal of unease in the medical community over Britain’s new plan to delay second shots as a way of giving more people the partial protection of a single dose.
British doctors, instructed to begin rescheduling second-dose appointments for next week, said they were loath to ask older, vulnerable patients to wait an extra two months for their booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They said those patients had been counting on having the full protection of two doses, had already arranged for caregivers to help them get to their doctors’ offices and could ill afford to rely on a new and untested vaccination strategy.
Beyond that, doctors said it was logistically impossible to make contact with thousands of older patients in a matter of days, and then fill those slots with first-time recipients.
The British Medical Association, a trade union for doctors, said on Thursday that it would support doctors who decided to keep second-dose appointments that had been booked for January.
“It is grossly and patently unfair to tens of thousands of our most at-risk patients to now try to reschedule their appointments,” Dr. Richard Vautrey, the chairman of the trade union’s family doctor committee, said in a statement. “The government must see that it’s only right that existing bookings for the oldest and most vulnerable members of our society are honored, and it must also as soon as possible publish a scientifically validated justification for its new approach.”
Britain’s National Health Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Delaying second vaccine doses could double the number of people eligible for shots in the coming weeks and eventually lighten the toll of the virus in Britain, where hospitals are facing a deluge of cases of a new and more contagious coronavirus variant. While any one person may be better off with the full two doses, some scientists said, society as a whole benefits if more people are given the partial protection of a single dose for the time being.
But other scientists believe that Britain overshot the available evidence, potentially leaving older people and health care workers without the full protection of two vaccine doses amid dreadful wintertime surges. Britain made the decision without the public meetings or voluminous briefings that have preceded American regulatory decisions. No trials have explicitly tested the long-term efficacy of a single shot.
And what limited evidence exists about the protection afforded by a single dose clashed with scientists’ fears that antibody responses would wane over time, potentially falling below a protective threshold.
Some family doctors in Britain said that they were uneasy about a lack of evidence showing that patients would be protected for many weeks from Covid-19 after a single shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“I have been instructed to break my promise to my elderly patients,” Dr. Helen Salisbury, a family doctor in Oxford, said on Twitter on Thursday morning, “and use a vaccine outside its evidenced and approved schedule, probably placing them at risk.”