Nurse Who Got COVID After First Vaccine Dose Had 'False Sense of Security'

A nurse who tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine has said the shot gave her a "false sense of security."

The nurse, who works for Britain's National Health Service in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area of Wales, told the BBC she received one dose of the vaccine last month.

But three weeks after the first shot—before receiving the second one—the nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, began to experience "quite severe symptoms," including a bad cough, high temperature and breathlessness.

A coronavirus test subsequently revealed she was positive for COVID-19, with the nurse telling the BBC that the result "shocked" her. The nurse's partner and one of her children also tested positive for the disease.

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine has been shown to reduce an individual's risk of developing COVID-19 by 95 percent. But this level of protection—and long-lasting immunity—is only reached "seven or more days" after the second dose, which is supposed to be administered 21 days later, according to a study published in the BMJ reviewing the results of a Phase III clinical trial.

According to the paper, the vaccine may provide some early protection, but this only begins around 12 days after the first dose. Vaccine efficacy between the first and second doses was found to be 52 percent when given 21 days apart.

Deputy Chief Executive of the Hywel Dda University Health Board, Dr. Philip Kloer, said in a statement: "It is always distressing to hear about staff contracting the virus. Whilst the vaccine reduces your chance of suffering from COVID-19, no vaccine is 100 percent effective."

"There is particular risk that you may have contracted COVID-19 immediately prior to having the vaccine without knowing it, or that you may contract it in the week or two following vaccination as your body builds up protection."

The rollout of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine began in the U.K. began on December 8 last year, and so far around one million people have already received their first dose of the shot in the country.

Initially, U.K, authorities planned to give people the second dose three weeks after the first—the only dosing regimen tested and proven to provide 95 efficacy in clinical trials.

But amid a significant surge in cases and the spread of a new more infectious variant of the virus, U.K. health authorities changed course, saying individuals would have to wait 12 weeks before receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, according to the advice of the country's chief medical officer.

The decision means more people would receive the first shot sooner, although they will be only partially protected for longer.

The British Medical Association Cymru Wales has criticized the decision, citing a lack of evidence in favor of waiting 12 weeks for the second dose. But the U.K.'s chief medical officer, Chris Witty, defended the move, given the epidemiological situation.

"In the short term, the additional increase of vaccine efficacy from the second dose is likely to be modest; the great majority of the initial protection from clinical disease is after the first dose of vaccine," Whitty said in a statement.

"In terms of protecting priority groups, a model where we can vaccinate twice the number of people in the next two to three months is obviously much more preferable," he said.

In its recommendations for optimizing the impact of the vaccine rollout, the U.K.'s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that the Pfizer-BioNtech shot's short-term efficacy was 89 percent between days 15 and 21 after the first dose, and 91 percent between day 15 and 28, based on data from the clinical trials.

But Sheila Bird, a biostatistician from Cambridge University, said in a statement that while there appears to be "some protection against COVID-19 disease following one dose," the available data does not "provide sufficient information about longer-term protection beyond 28 days after a single dose."

The JCVI said it assumed that protection from the first dose will "wane in the medium term, and the second dose will still be required to provide more durable protection."

The World Health Organization has advised against delaying the second dose of the vaccine but said exceptions can be made for countries in "exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints and epidemiological settings."

In December, Pfizer CEO Alber Boula told reporters on a press call that it would be a "mistake" for people to receive only one dose of his company's vaccine, although he admitted the partial protection could help "from an epidemiology point of view."

"I say it's a very big mistake if anyone tries to do it with only one dose, when with two, you almost double the protection," Bourla said.

In the U.S., a handful of reports have emerged of people becoming infected with COVID-19 after getting their first vaccine dose.

These cases include an ER doctor from Georgia who developed COVD-19 nine days after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

"This was just dumb luck," the doctor, Josh Mugele, told Business Insider. "I happened to be exposed within a few days of getting the vaccine, but this still is the best tool we have for fighting the virus."

Working in ER, the doctor is at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 compared to the general public.

"That first eight days is really critical," Mugele said. "People still have to be absolutely isolated. They have to wear their mask, they have to wash their hands, they have to avoid going out before they get the benefit of the vaccine."

nurse prepares Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
A nurse prepares a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on January 8, 2021 at the Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest, western France. FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images