Feb 4, 2021 - Health

U.K. to test mixing COVID-19 vaccines in world-first trial

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a bottle of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Batley, on February 1, 2021 in West Yorkshire, England

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, England, on Monday. Photo:Jon Super - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The United Kingdom on Thursday launched a new clinical study to test the effects of mixing COVID-19 vaccines.

Why it matters: Per a statement from Oxford University virologist Matthew Snape, chief investigator of the world-first study: "If we do show that these vaccines can be used interchangeably in the same schedule this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery."

  • He added it "could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains."

How it works: More than 800 volunteers over 50 years old will be given the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine followed by a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's, or vice-versa, according to the U.K. government statement.

  • There will be a four- or 12-week break between doses.

What to watch: The study will run for 13 months, but initial findings are expected to be released in the summer.

What they're saying: "It is also even possible that by combining vaccines, the immune response could be enhanced giving even higher antibody levels that last longer," said deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the senior responsible officer for the study.

  • "Unless this is evaluated in a clinical trial we just won't know."

Of note: The FDA said last month it's following discussions, such as "mixing and matching vaccines in order to immunize more people against COVID-19."

  • But "without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from COVID-19."
Go deeper