Vaccination against COVID-19 with the recently approved mRNA vaccines BNT162b2 (BioNTech/Pfizer) and mRNA-1273 (Moderna) is currently underway in a large number of countries. However, high incidence rates and rapidly spreading SARS-CoV-2 variants are concerning. In combination with acute supply deficits in Europe in early 2021, the question arises of whether stretching the vaccine, for instance by delaying the second dose, can make a significant contribution to preventing deaths, despite associated risks such as lower vaccine efficacy, the potential emergence of escape mutants, enhancement, waning immunity, reduced social acceptance of off-label vaccination, and liability shifts. A quantitative epidemiological assessment of risks and benefits of non-standard vaccination protocols remains elusive. To clarify the situation and to provide a quantitative epidemiological foundation we develop a stochastic epidemiological model that integrates specific vaccine rollout protocols into a risk-group structured infectious disease dynamical model. Using the situation and conditions in Germany as a reference system, we show that delaying the second vaccine dose is expected to prevent deaths in the four to five digit range, should the incidence resurge. We show that this considerable public health benefit relies on the fact that both mRNA vaccines provide substantial protection against severe COVID-19 and death beginning 12 to 14 days after the first dose. The benefits of protocol change are attenuated should vaccine compliance decrease substantially. To quantify the impact of protocol change on vaccination adherence we performed a large-scale online survey. We find that, in Germany, changing vaccination protocols may lead to small reductions in vaccination intention. In sum, we therefore expect the benefits of a strategy change to remain substantial and stable.