Tony Blair calls for 'one dose vaccination strategy' amid spread of new strain

23 December 2020, 11:50 | Updated: 23 December 2020, 12:39

Tony Blair urged the UK Government to accelerate its vaccination programme
Tony Blair urged the UK Government to accelerate its vaccination programme. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Tony Blair has called for “as many people as possible” in the UK to be given a single dose of the coronavirus vaccine amid the worrying spread of the new mutated strain.

The former prime minister said the current vaccination plan, which involves administering two doses three weeks apart, must be “altered and radically accelerated” so the country can come out of lockdown sooner.

He wrote in The Independent: “Now that we have significant new variants of coronavirus... it is even more obvious: we can’t eradicate this virus. We have to live with it.

“It will be with us probably for some years. It may change like the flu, so requiring constant adjustment is our means of combating it - and continuing our current course would mean severe lockdown until vaccination.”

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The only vaccine approved for use in the UK is the Pfizer/BioNTech one, but the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is expected to be approved for use in the coming days.

Both require two doses to be fully effective.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and 40 million of the Pfizer/BioNTech one. However all of those doses will not be immediately available.

Mr Blair wrote: “The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency should clear the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine within days, to add to the Pfizer one. We have several million doses available and with perhaps another 15 million available in January. 

“It is a two-dose vaccine, but even the first dose will provide substantial immunity, with full effectiveness coming with a second dose two to three months later - longer than originally thought.

“We should consider using all the available doses in January as first doses, that is, not keeping back half for second doses. Then, as more production is rolled out, we will have enough for the second dose.  

“Thirty million Johnson and Johnson vaccines - which is a one-dose vaccine - should also be with us by end of January. We should aim to use them all in February.

“We should continue to prioritise frontline health staff and the most vulnerable, but let this not hold up vaccinating others.

“The aim should be to vaccinate as many people as possible in the coming months."

He added the "logic" behind vaccinating older people first "is naturally heightened risk of mortality".

But he said in order to slow the spread of the virus "it makes sense to consider vaccinating those doing the spreading" and cited "certain occupations or age groups such as students”.

Mr Blair continued: “This is nothing to do with politics. I just want the Government to succeed in getting on top of this virus. But we cannot afford to get this vaccination plan wrong.”

More than 500,000 people have now been given their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the UK after it was approved earlier this month.