WHO approves varying time between vaccine doses, but on whose authority?

It was only three days ago when the Food and Drug Administration told us not to mess around with the recommended schedules for administering the COVID vaccines, as some states have been considering doing. They remained firm in their guidelines to wait 21 days after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days after the Moderna vaccine before administering the second dose. Now, barely 72 hours later, the World Health Organization is telling countries around the world that you should be able to wait up to 42 days (six weeks) between the two doses of the Pfizer version. It seems that nobody told the people at Pfizer that, however. (Associated Press)

World Health Organization experts have issued recommendations saying that the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be extended to up to six weeks.

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published guidance Friday saying that an interval of 21 to 28 days between the first and second doses is recommended.

But the U.N. health agency also noted that “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” and some have considered postponing the administration of second doses as a way to expand the number of people initially immunized.

What is going on at the WHO? (A subsidiary of the United Nations, by the way.) This isn’t a minor change we’re talking about, such as missing your appointment by a couple of days. Six weeks is fully double the amount of time that the FDA mandated. It’s double the amount of time that the people who created and tested the vaccine said to wait. I checked the latest information on the CDC page and they haven’t posted any sort of update to the testing trials from Pfizer. So where is the World Health Organization coming up with this new information?

To be fair, Pfizer hasn’t said that the vaccine definitely won’t work if you wait a longer period of time between doses. They admit that it might still be just as effective. Or it might not. They don’t know because they haven’t tested it at those intervals yet. What they do know is that it’s more than 90% effective if you stick to the schedule they issued.

What we’re seeing here is a continuation of a pattern of conflict and confusion between the groups that are supposed to be the experts on pandemics and medicine. This has been going on since this plague first broke out. We were originally told by some officials that the novel coronavirus was likely not much worse than the common flu. Then, a few weeks later, it was the end of the world. We were told that wearing facemasks likely wouldn’t do much unless you had the ones made out of N17 filtration material. Not long after that, cloth facemasks were mandatory. Travel bans were useless and racist until a new variant broke out in the UK and suddenly the whole world was banning travel. The list goes on.

And now we’ve reached the point where the group that is arguably the largest health organization on the planet is giving conflicting guidance on the interval between vaccine doses. If that information didn’t come from Pfizer, it means that some person or panel at the WHO looked at the situation and decided to roll the dice if a region doesn’t have access to enough doses to administer them properly. What if they’re wrong? Or perhaps we should say, what if they’re wrong again?

As I was writing this article on Friday morning I had CNN on (muted) in the background. Dr. Sanjay Gupta was getting his second dose of the vaccine on camera to show everyone how safe it is. He seems to be sticking to the schedule ordered by the manufacturer. So who should we believe? Your guess is as good as mine.