The UK has become the first country to approve widespread use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. It could be available as soon as the week starting December 7th.
The UK medical regulator, the MHRA, says that the vaccine is safe for use. It is claimed to give 95 percent protection against Covid-19.
The immunisation programme would take place in order of priority with NHS workers and the elderly and vulnerable top of the list. The vaccination would then be rolled out roughly in descending order of age, with the hope that it would be universally available some time next year.
The government had updated its vaccination priority advice, see here.
The UK has ordered 40m doses, enough to vaccinate 20m people, as two doses are required, 21 days apart. It then takes a few weeks for immunity to build fully. Around 10m doses should be available almost immediately, with the first 800,000 expected to arrive as early as next week, December 7th.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises that if you have a ‘flu jab, you should leave at least seven days before having any other vaccine. There will be no compulsion to have a coronavirus vaccine, though the minister in charge of the vaccination programme, Nadhim Zahawi, said that some venues such as sports grounds may insist on proof of one for granting entry. He commented that individuals would have to decide for themselves but would be given the ‘strong message’ that jabs were good for their family, community and country.
Referring to the vaccine, Nadhim Zahawi said on BBC Radio 4: “It is right that it is voluntary. But the very strong message that you will see, this is the way we return the whole country to normal, and so it’s good for your family, it’s good for your community, it’s good for your country.”
On ‘immunity passports’ he added: “You’ll probably find restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues – sports venues – will probably also use that system as they’ve done with the app. The reason the app has been so successful is because a lot of places that you would go to, they’ve got the QR code from the NHS that you scan for your own safety.”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Health Secretary Matt Hancock explained that people will be contacted by the NHS when it is their turn for a vaccination.
He said: “I’m confident now with the news today that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better and we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy.”
NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, added that the NHS was preparing for “the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history”. Initially, vaccinations will have to take place at selected hospitals and vaccination centres, as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires ultra low temperature storage. Manufactured in Belgium, the vaccine will be transported packed in dry ice and must be stored at around -70C. Once delivered, it can be kept for up to five days in a refrigerator.
Taking 10 months to develop, this is the fastest ever vaccine development. Normally it takes several years just to produce funding for research, but the coronavirus pandemic has united all countries and research institutes in the search for a vaccine. The mRNA vaccine uses a fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight the virus. This is the first general approval for an mRNA vaccine in humans, though they have been used in clinical trials.
Experts warned that the availability of the vaccine does not mean that we can relax our vigilance. As the second national lockdown ends, and shops, pubs and restaurants reopen, a new tier system is being introduced, limiting mixing of households in almost all parts of the country. Use of social distancing, face masks and isolation of anyone testing positive for coronavirus must be maintained.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty said: “We can’t lower our guard yet.”
As it’s unlikely that enough of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be manufactured to supply the whole of the UK, let alone other countries, efforts will continue to research and approve other vaccines, some using different techniques.
Seven million doses of a vaccine from Moderna using the same mRNA techniques as the Pfizer vaccine have been pre-ordered. It offers similar protection to the Pfizer vaccine and could be ready by the spring. A hundred million doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine have also been ordered. This uses a harmless virus altered to resemble COVID-19, and has been claimed to have an effectiveness of 70 percent, though it may be possible to increase this to 90 percent by altering the dosages.
Russia and China have also approve their own vaccines similar to Oxford’s.
Read here for more details on how the UK has become the first country to approve widespread use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and it could be available as soon as the week starting December 7th.