Czech health minister: Extending interval between Covid vaccines will save lives

Jan Blatný, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

The Czech Republic which started inoculating people against Covid -19 late last year, has thus far respected the recommended interval between the first and second dose. Now the health minister says the country must extend the interval in order to save lives.

Over one million people have so far received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. Although the speed of inoculation is expected to pick up in the coming weeks, due to fresh deliveries, epidemiologists say that if the government wants to save more lives it will have to change its strategy so that as many people as possible receive at least one dose. Epidemiologist Rastislav Madar says it is vital to make a decision fast.

Rastislav Maďar | Photo: Věra Luptáková,  Czech Radio

“If we are planning to relax the anti-Covid measures in April, which seems to be the general idea, then it is absolutely crucial that we inoculate as many people as possible with one dose in the coming days and weeks. The second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, where the recommended interval is 21 and 28 days respectively, can be administered within 38 and 42 days with no adverse consequences. We now know that by 15 days of the first shot people have up to 80 percent protection. The highest death rate now is in the over 55 age bracket, so it is crucial that as many people as possible in that age group and over get at least one shot as soon as possible.”

Under the present system people aged 55 and over would have to wait much longer for a first dose since the central reservation system will only open to people over 65 after Easter.

The Ministry of Health which had for some time refused to consider extending the recommended interval, due to protests from regional coordinators who argued that changing the system midway would present logistic problems, is now determined to act on epidemiologists’ recommendations. Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday Health Minister Jan Blatný defended the decision which he expects to be rubberstamped on Tuesday.

Photo: ČTK/Dalibor Glück
“I want to assure citizens here and now that getting the second dose of a vaccine after a longer interval will not harm them. This is not a race –where those who get a second dose sooner are better off than those who get it a bit later. We know that a single dose of any Covid vaccine is highly efficacious –reaching up to 80 percent after two weeks –and making the first dose available to more people will save lives. According to epidemiologists’ calculations by changing our strategy we can save around 200 lives, without putting others at risk.”

In the 10 million strong Czech Republic just over one million people have now received one dose of the vaccine – that is one in ten inhabitants. Approximately 440,000 people have received both doses. The health minister wants at least two million people to get at least one dose by the end of April and for 60 to 70 percent of the population to be inoculated by the end of the summer.