THERE is a “real risk” that Pfizer vaccines will be wasted as a result of the sudden U-turn on second doses for healthcare staff, a top doctor has warned.

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of BMA Scotland, said the decision has left frontline staff feeling “let down and betrayed”.

He added that he has also heard concerns from inside sources that there is no guarantee supplies of the Pfizer vaccine will be available to deliver second doses to NHS staff by the 12 week deadline.

The decision to delay the period between the first and second dose of the vaccine followed recommendations by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI), issued on December 30.

As a result, NHS staff scheduled to receive their second dose from January 5 onwards saw their appointments cancelled to prioritise first dose Pfizer inoculation for care home residents, staff, and frontline health and social care workers.

READ MORE: Everyone over 50 will be vaccinated by early May 

However, Dr Morrison said this decision – coming immediately before the New Year break – had left health boards with little time to re-organise.

He said: “The timing of that decision also left the health boards absolutely no ability to sensibly re-arrange vaccination appointments that were due to be done this week or even next week.

“We have had reports that that may mean vaccination clinic slots go unused in the short-term and there is a real risk, because of the handling of the Pfizer vaccine, that if a number of those slots are stood down and not used, there is actually a real risk of vaccine doses not being used.”

The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at -70°C, and once thawed can be stored in a standard refrigerator for up to five days - or up to 30, but only if kept in its shipping boxes with the dry ice replaced every five days.

Dozens of frontline staff due to be vaccinated at Glasgow Royal Infirmary yesterday were turned away because there were no vaccine doses or immunisation staff available.

One medic - who gave up waiting - described the situation to the Herald as an “omnishambles”.

They said: “I turned up for my 10am appointment to find no vaccines and no staff. All told to come back at 11am, whereby the 8-11am appointment people - and all the 11am appointments - were all trying to join a queue to get done.

“Near enough 70 to 100 people. I left. Not sure when I’ll get done.”

In a statement, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde apologised for the problems which led to people missing their vaccinations. 

It said: "Unfortunately due to a scheduling error, vaccination staff were not on-site to provide vaccinations [on Tuesday] morning. We are sorry for this mistake."

Those who missed their appointment had been offered new slots yesterday afternoon or later this week, it added. 

READ MORE: Medics call for facemasks to be worn outdoors 

Around 100,000 people in Scotland have been vaccinated using the Pfizer-BioNTech formula since the UK became the first country in the world to begin immunisations on December 8.

The decision to stagger the doses comes amid deteriorating situation UK-wide, including a doubling in coronavirus cases in Scotland since Christmas Day.

The UK and devolved governments are gambling that vaccinating more people with one dose will do more to reduce hospitalisations and deaths.

Clinical trials have shown the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing Covid disease after two doses, and 52% effective after one dose, but the JCVI says there is evidence to indicate that protection could actually be as high as 89% from 22 days after the first dose.

However, Dr Morrison, a consultant geriatrician working in East Lothian, said there are fears supplies could run out.

He said: “I have spoken to someone who knows a bit more about where they are with vaccine supply and to be honest no one will say ‘we can absolutely guarantee that we will have X number of doses of Pfizer in nine to 12 weeks time’, which is the window they would need to vaccinate anyone who’s had dose one. That is a worry.”

BMA Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to reinstate second dose appointments for those already given the Pfizer vaccine, saying the 12-week delay “is not based on science” and has breached the consent process, which was based on agreeing to two doses 21 days apart.

Dr Morrison stressed that there is clearer evidence that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine - which is being rolled to over-80s in the community - can deliver protective immunity for 12 weeks after the first dose.

READ MORE: Looking back on the year in Covid, from 'Super Saturday' to fears over variant coronavirus strains

He added that lockdown meant the general population would also be better protected during January.

“The whole point of lockdown is to stamp out the infection. The individual risk doesn’t change for those who catch it, but what we’re hoping obviously is that you reduce the risk to the population.

“What you don’t do is reduce the risk to health and social care staff because we are going to work day in day out, at increasing risk if admissions continue to climb.

“That’s the thing about breaking this dose two promise - the next few weeks that is the period when people are at maximum risk.”

It comes after a briefing paper issued for investors by HSBC’s pharmaceutical division warned on Tuesday that if the UK strategy fails to slow spread of the new variant then “a high rate of viral transmission together with vaccine-induced selection pressure might arguably lead to more virulent Covid-19 variants and a worse - not a better - outcome for the UK”.

The head of the World Health Organization’s immunization advisory group said on Tuesday that its recommendation for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine remains two shots within a period of 21-28 days.

Dr Joachim Hombach, executive secretary of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), said: “We feel that we need to be grounded in evidence in relation to our recommendations, but totally acknowledge that countries may see needs to be even more flexible in terms of the administration of the second dose.

“But it is important to note that there is very little empiric data from the trials that underpin this type of recommendation.”

BioNTech and Pfizer warned on Monday they had no evidence their vaccine would continue to be protective if the second dose was given more than 21 days after the first.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The independent JCVI have advised that in order to rapidly protect the most vulnerable a change in the dose schedule is recommended, and that models suggest initially vaccinating a greater number of people with a single dose will prevent more deaths and hospitalisations than vaccinating a smaller number of people with two doses.

"Those who have received their first dose, will get the second within the 12 week period.

"This approach has been supported by the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties as well as including immunology specialists.”