Pfizer and AstraZeneca have dismissed government warnings of months of vaccine supply gaps, claiming there will be enough doses to meet the country's ambitious goals.
UK chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned this week that vaccine availability problems "persist for several months" as companies struggle to keep up with global demand.
To ration food supplies, the government has pledged to give single doses of the Pfizer vaccine to as many people as possible, rather than giving a second dose to those already vaccinated.
However, Pfizer and Oxford / AstraZeneca joint manufacturers have concerns that there is no problem with the supply.
Her intervention came after an additional 53,285 people in the UK tested positive on Friday – more than 50,000 positive tests were announced for four consecutive days.
And 613 more people have died from the virus – including an eight-year-old child – and the official death toll is 74,125.
The eight-year-old died in England on December 30 and had other health problems, the NHS said.
At least one million Pfizer doses and about 530,000 Oxford doses are expected to be given to patients across the country next week, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Earlier this month, AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot promised the company could deliver two million doses a week by mid-January – which means 24 million could be vaccinated by Easter.
Vaccine companies have rejected government warnings of months of supply gaps, claiming there will be enough doses to meet government ambition goals (file picture)
Margaret Keenan returned to the hospital this week to get her second round of the Covid-19 vaccine, but thousands of other patients are expected to reschedule their appointments as part of a new program to get more people to get their first dose
The intervention of the developers of the only two Covid vaccines approved in the UK came in a dispute over ministers' decision to ration vaccine supplies.
Officials have said that patients who already had a dose of the vaccine should postpone their second – which they were told would receive three weeks later – for up to 12 weeks.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, UK chief medical officers said the decision had been made on a "balance between risks and benefits".
The medical officers are Professor Whitty (England), Dr. Frank Atherton (Wales), Dr. Gregor Smith (Scotland) and Dr. Michael McBride (Northern Ireland).
They said, “We need to make sure we maximize the number of people eligible to receive the vaccine.
& # 39; Currently the main obstacle to this is the availability of vaccines, a global problem and it will remain so for several months and especially during the critical winter period.
& # 39; The availability of the AZ vaccine (Oxford / AstraZeneca) reduces but does not eliminate this main problem. Vaccine shortages are a reality that one cannot wish for. & # 39;
And they said there is no reason to assume the vaccines will be less effective if the doses are further apart than intended.
The report added, “For most vaccines, a longer interval between the main dose and the booster dose results in a better immune response to the booster dose.
PFIZER strikes back in the UK plan to give people one dose, not two
Pfizer warned yesterday that there is "no data" to show that a single dose of its coronavirus vaccine offers long-term protection after the UK abandoned its original jab rollout plan.
The UK medical regulator is now recommending that two doses of Covid should be given three months apart instead of four weeks so that millions of people can be immunized in less time.
The strategy applies to both Pfizer / BioNTech's vaccine and the newly approved Oxford / AstraZeneca sting, although there is limited data on the effectiveness of the starting doses.
It is a direct response to the emergence of Covid cases and hospitalizations across the UK caused by a new, highly infectious strain that emerged in the south east of England in September.
Virtually all of England faces a brutal lockdown by the spring, with Covid vaccines the only hope to end the devastation.
Health bosses now want to give as many people as possible an initial dose rather than withhold the second dose so more people can enjoy at least some protection.
AstraZeneca praised the move and announced that it had tested the three-month strategy in its studies on a small subset of test subjects.
However, Pfizer said there was no data in its studies to show that its vaccine protects against Covid every 12 weeks.
In a thinly veiled slap in the UK, the US company warned that all "alternative" dosing regimes should be closely monitored by health authorities.
Data from the Phase 3 study showed that although partial protection from the vaccine appears to begin as early as 12 days after the first dose, two doses of the vaccine are required to provide maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine effectiveness of 95 percent, ”Pfizer said in a statement.
"There is no data to show that protection is maintained after the first dose after 21 days."
& # 39; There is evidence that a longer interval between the first and second dose promotes a stronger immune response with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
"There is currently no clear evidence that the immune response of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine would be significantly different from that of the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines."
But doctors have been outraged, saying they will not deny vulnerable patients the vaccines they promised them because they fear the one-dose shocks will not work as well.
General practitioners criticized the policy as "grossly unfair" and frustrated scientists warned that clinical trials of the vaccine only tested how well it worked with a three-week gap, so there is no evidence that the new regimen would work long-term.
However, experts in support of the policy change have struck back, saying that every other dose given is another person missing their first, potentially life-saving, vaccine.
Former Health Department vaccination chief Professor David Salisbury said, "Every time we give a second dose now, we hold that back from someone who is likely to die from developing coronavirus."
The government has not yet determined whether there will be sanctions for doctors who refuse to switch to the one-dose policy. A doctor said NHS chiefs had advised her to use "clinical judgment".
Margaret Keenan, the first person in the world to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, received her second bump earlier this week.
But thousands of others across the UK will postpone their second appointments so the NHS can focus on providing more people with bumps.
According to the Department of Health, a total of 944,539 people across the UK had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by December 27.
The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) warned of the "ill-conceived" plan to postpone the second dose and would keep many at-risk employees in suspense.
General practitioners working for NHS bodies in Black Country and West Birmingham, as well as a doctor in Oxford, said they would keep the commitments they made to patients.
No10 has set its hopes on the Oxford vaccine, which was approved this week, and has finally ended the perpetual cycle of lockdown and opening that has devastated the economy and healthcare at large.
However, even if 24 million people are vaccinated, life is unlikely to return to normal by Easter, as two-thirds of the population remain susceptible to the disease.
Scientists say that herd immunity – when enough of a population becomes immune for the virus to fail – can only be achieved if 70 percent of people are protected. Some experts in the US have warned the number could go as high as 90 percent.
The teaching union is calling for ALL elementary and secondary schools to remain closed because of the Covid "tsunami" – after the primaries were closed in the last turn of the government across London
A teachers' union has called for all schools across the country to close at the start of the new semester after the government reversed its decision to keep some London primaries open despite increasing cases of Covid.
The government bowed to protests, legal pressure and scientific advice on New Year's Day after initially excluding some districts of the capital from the forced closings.
Dr. However, Mary Bousted, joint secretary general of the National Education Union, questioned why the rest of the country is not introducing the same restrictions.
Gavin Williamson this week published a list of London elementary schools in coronavirus hotspots that would be closed for two weeks after the start of the semester next week.
The list didn't include areas where Covid rates are high, like Haringey, whose leaders said they would oppose the government and support schools that decided to close.
All elementary schools in London will now close at the start of the new semester after the government has turned its decision to keep some open despite increasing cases of Covid on its head
The government bowed to protests, legal pressure, and scientific advice on New Year's Day after initially banning a number of districts from the forced closings
Many of the London boroughs that have been told to keep elementary schools open are seeing increases in Covid cases
The government's original plan was to reopen schools in the City of London and Kingston, but those in 22 other London boroughs would have remained closed.
The Heads of State or Government of Camden, Islington, Greenwich, Haringey, Harrow, Hackney and Lewisham and the City of London said in a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson: “We urge that your recommendation be urgently reviewed and our primary schools are added to the list of those who are advised to postpone learning online. & # 39;
The action prompted a cabinet emergency meeting today which decided to abandon the original plans and order the remaining area to close their elementary schools.
The move is expected to take similar arrangements as it did in the spring, when schools continue to accept children from key working-class families but move to online learning for the vast majority of students.
But a teachers union has made the decision not to apply the same measures to schools across the country as the Covid tsunami is rocking the country.
The London Mayor of Labor, Sadiq Khan, and party colleagues who ran the city councils had urged all schools in London to be closed
Sadiq Khan responded to the message, saying, "This is the right decision – and I would like to thank Secretary of Education Nick Gibb for our constructive discussions over the past two days."
Mr. Khan previously described it as "nonsensical" that some elementary school students were told to return next week and wrote to the Prime Minister about his anger that local leaders had not been consulted.
Mr. Williamson said: “Child education and wellbeing remain a national priority. Moving more parts of London to distance learning is really a last resort and a temporary solution.
& # 39; As infection rates rise across the country and London in particular, we must take this step to protect our country and the NHS. We will keep checking the list of local authorities and reopening the classrooms as soon as possible. & # 39;
The Tier 4 areas that were originally excluded from the closings but have now been added are Camden, London, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Harrow, Islington, Kingston upon Thames, Lambeth and Lewisham.
According to the Covid rates compiled by the PA news agency, 2,176 new cases were recorded in Greenwich in the seven days to December 26, compared to the 768 new cases in Kensington and Chelsea during the same period.
On December 15, Greenwich was forced to withdraw council and urge schools to switch to online learning amid rising coronavirus rates after the Education Secretary threatened legal action.
Labor shadow education secretary Kate Green said the London schools' last-minute decision had caused "tremendous stress" for students, families and staff and that the new semester was only days away.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Over the past week, infections and hospital stays have risen sharply across London, and hospitals are under increasing pressure.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government needs to find a balance between education and infection rates
“While keeping as many children in school as possible is our priority, we need to strike a balance between education and infection rates and pressures on the NHS.
& # 39; The situation in London continues to deteriorate and so today we are taking steps to protect the public and reduce the spread of this disease in the community.
"Everyone across London needs to take this situation incredibly seriously and act responsibly to minimize the spread of this deadly disease."
The previous decision baffled many as the schools had to stay open just a few meters from other schools.
Two schools in Islington, north London, had received different advice on whether to open or close them within 700 meters.
Councilor Richard Watts, chairman of Islington Council, slammed the government for its last-minute decision.
He said: “It is unacceptable that the government waited until Friday night on New Years Day just a weekend before students should return to make a decision that should have been made weeks ago when the public health situation became clear has been .
"The government made the right decision after threatening legal action against schools if they didn't reopen in January after Islington and other councils warned last month that it should be done on a public health recommendation."
"The government has given schools and parents very little time to prepare and make arrangements."
Schools are already converting sports halls and erecting tents on playgrounds in preparation for the mass testing program that is being staffed by volunteer alumni.
All secondary schools have been asked to run tests on five million people starting next week.
Students will take the tests themselves, but former students will be on hand to assist with the operation.
Dr. Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT union, agreed, saying, “Once again parents, students and staff have to grapple with the aftermath of even more chaotic last-minute government announcements.
"The government has bowed to political pressure and again shown its disregard for scientific advice, which is increasingly suggesting that the late reopening of schools in all regions of the country is essential in breaking the chain of coronavirus transmission."
The Tier 4 areas that were originally excluded from the closings but have now been added are Camden, London, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Harrow, Islington, Kingston upon Thames, Lambeth and Lewisham
Scientific advisors had warned that more school closings were needed to control rising infections.
The government's Sage Committee said it was "highly unlikely" that the pandemic could be dealt with effectively if schools could open freely next week.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said, “Right at the moment we need critical leadership, the government is on six and seven.
"The government cannot expect to gain public trust with such a confusing and short-term approach."
In the meantime, Dr. Mary Bousted, Joint Secretary General of the National Education Union: “It is to be welcomed that the Ministers, albeit in their usual last-minute manner, have corrected an apparently nonsensical position – one which they could not justify with evidence or reason.
“But the question must be asked: why are the education ministers so inadequate and incompetent? Who will advise you?
“And what is right for London is right for the rest of the country. With the highest rate of Covid-19 infection and hospitals suffering from the tsunami of very sick patients, it is time for ministers to do their duty – to protect the NHS by following advice from Sage and by taking all basic and close secondary schools to bring the R rate below 1.
"The time has come for the government to protect its citizens, and especially its children, by closing all elementary schools for two weeks in order to properly assess the situation, make schools much safer, and protect children and their families."
A businessman, whose daughter is attending elementary school in a Covid hotspot, had the & # 39; absurd & # 39; Decision to keep it open before the final U-turn was blown.
Stephen Cook was stunned by the decision when his London council told school principals to defy ministers and stay closed for the coming weeks.
Cook, 55, who runs a construction company, told MailOnline: “It's all very confusing and completely absurd. But then you could say that we live in very confusing and absurd times.
“None of this makes sense because there are children who come to my daughter's school from Barnet, London, and she has friends from there too. Haringey's infection rate is higher than Barnet's. Why don't all schools in the region close?
Mr Cook lives with his family on Coppetts Road, a busy street that separates Haringey, London on one side and Barnet on the other.
He said, “Children who live in the Barnet neighborhood visit Coldfall and Haringey children go to Coppetts Wood. And when they're out in local parks, they're always mixing and playing.
Stephen Cook and daughter Holly were stunned by the initial decision when his London council told school principals to defy ministers and stay closed
“We are in an incredibly difficult situation and I'm glad I'm not responsible, but we need more clarity because a lot of people don't understand what is going on.
"I live in a Covid hotspot, but when I cross the street I'm in the Barnet district of London. Then why isn't there more consistency?"
According to the latest government figures, Haringey registered 2,120 cases of coronavirus with infections of 789.14 per 100,000 in the week leading up to December 25.
Over the same period, Barnet registered 2,751 with infections at 694.13 per 100,000.
Haringey City Councilor Joseph Ejiofor wrote to the school principals explaining that the Covid case rate in the area is above the London average and that officials were not consulted prior to the decision.
He wrote: “We are part of the same integrated care system as two counties that are supposed to keep the primaries closed (Barnet and Enfield) and North Middlesex, a hospital under considerable pressure, serves the people of Haringey and Enfield.
"We believe that all elementary schools in Haringey should only be open to children of key workers and vulnerable children next week, and we will support all of our schools in this approach."
Jenny Batt, Lib Dem councilor for Worcester Park in Sutton, southwest London, said local people were "confused and concerned" about what was going on and did not understand how officials were making their decisions.
Medics are picking up a patient from an ambulance at Royal London Hospital this morning, January 1st
"You don't understand the criteria," she told BBC London. “I have residents in Sutton who have kids in Kingston and are told it's safe.
"And then you have your neighbors' children who can't go to school because theirs aren't safe."
Secondary schools also have to wait eagerly to see if they can fully reopen on the new target date, January 18th.
The Department of Education is keen to put a mass testing system in place, but is warning that the curbs may need to be wider than they are in primaries, as older children are more likely to spread the disease. The situation is not expected to become clear until the next January 13 review date.
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