Pfizer COVID Spacing Increases Antibody Levels: A UK Study | Reports of a coronavirus pandemic

The University of Oxford-led study might help inform vaccination strategies against the Delta variant, which reduces the effectiveness of a first dose of the vaccine even though two doses are still protective, and one author said that the UK’s eight-week gap was a “sweet spot” against Delta.

Story Highlights:

  • A longer gap between doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine leads to higher overall antibody levels than a shorter gap, a UK study has found, but antibody levels are not sustained for long after the first dose.

  • “What we found was, on average, if you had a shorter dosing interval, you had lower antibodies,” Susanna Dunachie, a professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Oxford and joint chief investigator of the study told Al Jazeera.

“But this was at a population level so I think first of all I’d like to say that two doses of Pfizer vaccine are very good at inducing immune responses, and if you’ve had your Pfizer vaccine on a short dosing interval, don’t worry, it’s a great vaccine.”

“For the longer dosing interval … neutralising antibody levels against the Delta variant were poorly induced after a single dose, and not maintained during the interval before the second dose,” the authors of the study said.

The authors emphasised that either dosing schedule produced a strong antibody and T-cell response in the study of 503 healthcare workers.

“Following two vaccine doses, neutralising antibody levels were twice as high after the longer dosing interval compared with the shorter dosing interval.”

Neutralising antibodies are thought to play an important role in immunity against the coronavirus, but are not the whole picture, with T-cells also playing a part.

The study found overall T-cell levels were 1.6 times lower with a long gap compared with the short dosing interval of 3-4 weeks, but that a higher proportion were “helper” T-cells, which support long-term immune memory, with the long gap. “While we tend to emphasise neutralising antibodies as a measure of the immune response … cellular immunity, which is harder to measure, is also likely to be very important,” said Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Public Health Medicine Committee.

The findings, issued as a preprint, support the view that, while a second dose is needed to provide full protection against Delta, delaying that dose might provide more durable immunity, even if it is at the cost of protection in the short term. “We found that the UK strategy – which was to give a longer dosing strategy, which was based on knowledge of vaccines for other diseases, and how a longer gap often is better, and also as a way to quickly jab as many people as possible with one dose – actually ended up giving higher antibody levels,” Dunachie told Al Jazeera.

Last December, the UK extended the interval between vaccine doses to 12 weeks, although Pfizer warned there was no evidence to support a move away from a three-week gap. The UK now recommends an eight-week gap between vaccine doses to give more people high protection against Delta more quickly, while still maximising immune responses in the longer term.

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