Britain will buy another 35MILLION doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for next autumn’s booster jab drive in ‘deal worth £1billion after drug giant hikes price by a fifth’ – as No10’s top scientists say THIS year’s top-up campaign may not even be needed
- No10 ordered 35million more Pfizer jabs for next years vaccine booster programme at £22 per shot
- Ministers bought an extra 60million earlier this year for this autumn’s campaign at £18 for each dose
- JCVI member Adam Finn says it is unclear if over-50s with normal immune systems will need a booster
Britain has bought another 35million doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for next autumn’s booster jab drive, it was claimed today.
Whitehall sources say the deal will cost in the region of £1billion, after the drug giant hiked its prices by a fifth in response to demand.
Ministers already ordered an extra 60million doses for this year’s campaign to give out third doses, which would be enough to give top-ups to all 54million British adults and fully vaccinate the 1.4million 16- and 17-year-olds who are now eligible.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday confirmed preparations were in place for the booster campaign to start next month.
But experts have repeatedly questioned whether they are even necessary, WHY. One of No10’s top scientific advisers today claimed top-ups may only be necessary for anyone with a weak immune system, such as cancer patients, the elderly and transplant recipients.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises the Government on vaccine policy, said the evidence on whether all over-50s need them remains unclear.
Pfizer has insisted a third dose of its vaccine is necessary and BioNTech — the German firm which produces the vaccine alongside the drug giant — has said double-jabbed people need another dose for a ‘robust neutralization response’.
It comes after a study today claimed Moderna’s jab is better than Pfizer’s at stopping people getting infected with the Delta variant. One expert behind the research said any top-ups should be made by Moderna.
Britain has bought another 35million doses of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine (shaded on graph) for next autumn’s boost jab drive but the deal will cost nearly £800million after the pharmaceutical company hiked prices by a fifth
Professor Adam Finn (left), who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises the Government on vaccine policy — says people who have a weak immune system are likely to need a booster jab but it is still unclear whether it will be needed for all over-50s. Danny Altmann (right), professor of immunology at Imperial College London, says ‘any boosting is better than none’
People who received a Covid jab from Moderna or Pfizer for their first two doses should have a booster shot from the former because of its superior protection against the Delta variant, an expert has claimed.
Two reports published in medRxiv suggested Moderna’s vaccine could be more effective against the Delta variant than Pfizer’s.
In a study of more than 50,000 patients in the Mayo Clinic Health System, researchers found the effectiveness of Moderna’s vaccine against infection had dropped to 76 per cent in July — when the Delta variant was predominant — from 86 per cent in early 2021.
Over the same period, the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine had fallen to 42 per cent from 76 per cent, researchers said.
While both vaccines remain effective at preventing Covid hospitalisation, a Moderna booster shot may be necessary soon for anyone who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines earlier this year, according to Dr Venky Soundararajan of Massachusetts data analytics company nference, who led the Mayo study.
In a separate study, elderly nursing home residents in Ontario produced stronger immune responses — especially to worrisome variants — after the Moderna vaccine than after the Pfizer vaccine.
The elderly may need higher vaccine doses, boosters, and other preventative measures, said Anne-Claude Gingras of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, who led the Canadian study.
When asked to comment on both research reports, a Pfizer spokesperson said: ‘We continue to believe a third dose booster may be needed within six to 12 months after full vaccination to maintain the highest levels of protection.’
Pfizer previously priced its jabs at around £18, according to The Times, which means the UK’s current outlay on this year’s booster jabs would be in the region of £1.1billion.
Other reports suggested the price was slightly lower, at around £14 per dose, which would have cost Downing Street approximately £840million for the 60million doses.
But the company has increased prices by a fifth to £22 each, meaning Britain’s order for next year would cost around £770million.
The Times claimed the deal — which sources told the newspaper would be announced later this week — could be as high as £1billion.
Europe also ordered another 900million doses — but it is said to be paying slightly less at £16.50 per dose, according to contracts seen by the Financial Times.
Experts have already suggested this year’s order may have been a waste, with a broad third dose programme to all adults ‘unlikely’ to be necessary.
Even the boss of AstraZeneca, which is selling doses at cost and is not making profit from its jabs, has claimed booster doses may not be needed.
Discussing the plans today, Professor Finn told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’ve been asked to advise as to who may receive a booster if it proves necessary to give boosters.
‘I think it’s becoming quite clear there are a small group of people whose immune responses to the first two doses are likely to be inadequate — people who’ve got immunosuppression of one kind or another, perhaps because they’ve got immunodeficiency or they’ve been receiving treatment for cancer or bone marrow transplants or organ transplants, that kind of thing.
‘I think it’s quite likely we’ll be advising on a third dose for some of those groups.
‘A broader booster programme is still uncertain, we’ve laid out potential plans so that the logistics of that can be put together, alongside the flu vaccine programme.
‘We need to review evidence as to whether people who receive vaccines early on in the programme are in any serious risk of getting serious disease and whether the protection they’ve got from those first two doses is still strong – we clearly don’t want to be giving vaccines to people that don’t need them.’
Yesterday, JCVI chair Sir Andrew Pollard told MPs booster jabs would only be needed for most of the population if there was an increase in hospitalisations and death among people already doubled-jabbed, which ‘is not something we’re seeing at the moment’.
The Oxford professor told the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus: ‘The decision to boost or not should be scientifically driven.
‘The time which we would need to boost is if we saw evidence that there was an increase in hospitalisation or people dying amongst those who are vaccinated. That is not something that we’re seeing at the moment.
‘But we have to also have an understanding scientifically about how the vaccines work and they are providing very high levels of protection against that severe end of the spectrum.
‘But also, even as the levels of immunity start to drop that we can measure in the blood, our immune system still remembers that we were vaccinated and we’ll be remembering decades from now that we have those two doses of vaccine. So there isn’t any reason at this moment to panic.’
Older teenagers seriously ill with Covid-19 ‘led to jabs rollout extension’
The number of 16 and 17-year-olds becoming ‘seriously ill’ with coronavirus informed the extension of the vaccination rollout to that age group, a member of the committee advising on jabs said.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and is a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said there had been ‘a couple’ of 17-year-olds in that area who needed intensive care in hospital in recent weeks.
He said while most young people will only have the virus in a mild form, the vaccines will be effective at preventing serious cases.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’re going cautiously down through the ages now into childhood and it was clear that the number of cases and the number of young people in the age group – 16, 17 – that were getting seriously ill merited going forward with giving them just a first dose.’
He said the JCVI would advise ‘when and what’ the second dose for that age group would be after assessing more data.
He added: ‘Most young people who get this virus get it mildly or even without any symptoms at all.
‘But we are seeing cases in hospital even into this age group – we’ve had a couple of 17-year-olds here in Bristol admitted and needing intensive care over the course of the last four to six weeks – and so we are beginning to see a small number of serious cases.
‘What we know for sure is that these vaccines are very effective at preventing those kind of serious cases from occurring.’
NHS England said nearly 16,000 people in the 16 to 17-year-old age group have already received their vaccine over the weekend, just days after JVCI guidance was updated.
Extending the jabs rollout further down to the 12 to 15-year-old age group has not been ruled out.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he thinks doing so would be ‘a good thing’.
He told Times Radio the more unvaccinated people there are, the more lungs there are ‘for virus to percolate in, therefore it’s got to be a good thing to be vaccinating more children down through the age range’.
He said children who have the virus but do not have symptoms are ‘as dangerous to the spread as anybody else’.
He said: ‘From a medical scientific point of view, I’d say there’s nothing special about the virus in their lungs that can’t transmit through to their families, through to their schoolteachers, through to their colleagues.’
Meanwhile, Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London, this morning told Times Radio: ‘For a vulnerable person whose immunity is suboptimal, any boosting is better than none, and some of the data is quite promising on getting people back up into that protective zone.’
And Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at Nottingham University, said a study he led showing people who had been infected with Covid and later received two jabs have stronger immunity against variants of concern offers the ‘best evidence yet’ for the booster programme.
Natural infection and two doses of Pfizer’s jab increase antibody response against Delta and Lambda to ‘a similar virus-killing level to that you’d see in fully vaccinated individuals for the original [Wuhan] lineage’, the study claimed.
Professor Ball said the evidence gave a ‘pretty compelling’ justification for offering third jabs to healthcare workers.
But truth on how long immunity lasts from the vaccine and natural infection remain a mystery. The study also only looked at antibodies, which form only a small part of the body’s overall immune response.
The Pfizer order marks a shift away from the UK’s previous preference for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which was given to most over-40s in the early stages of the rollout.
Ministers prefer Pfizer for third doses because early studies suggest a ‘mix and match’ approach to vaccinating produces a better response.
And Pfizer’s jab appears to better at the Delta variant than AstraZeneca’s, according to real-world data.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: ‘We have secured access to more than 500million doses of Covid vaccines and we are confident our supply will support potential booster programmes in the future.’
The statement came as BioNTech announced it had earned £13.5billion ($18.6billion) in revenue from the vaccine this year, up from an earlier estimate of £10.5billion 12.4 billion euros ($14.5billion).
Its partner Pfizer last month announced earnings of revealed it had made £5.6billion ($7.8billion) from jab sales during the second quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca — which is selling jabs at cost — only made £644million ($900million) during the same period.
It came as Professor Finn said the JCVI advised the Government that children aged 16 and 17 would need the jab after seeing a small number of serious cases in the age group.
He said: ‘We’re going cautiously down through the ages now into childhood and it was clear that the number of cases and the number of young people in the age group – 16, 17 – that were getting seriously ill merited going forward with giving them just a first dose.
‘Most young people who get this virus get it mildly or even without any symptoms at all.
‘But we are seeing cases in hospital even into this age group — we’ve had a couple of 17-year-olds here in Bristol admitted and needing intensive care over the course of the last four to six weeks — and so we are beginning to see a small number of serious cases.
‘What we know for sure is that these vaccines are very effective at preventing those kind of serious cases from occurring.’
He said the group would advise ‘when and what’ the second dose for 16 and 17-year-olds would be after assessing more data.
Professor Finn said that even though 16-year-olds do not need parental consent to get the vaccine, in practice most are guided by parents, who he hoped would advise their children to take up the vaccine when offered.
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