A coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and claimed to be 90 percent effective could be available before Christmas, promises Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
The Health Secretary said that the NHS is ready to start providing the new coronavirus vaccine “as fast as safely possible”, and that it is “absolutely a possibility” that it could be available by Christmas, though he expected a mass roll-out to take place “in the first part of next year”.
Vaccinations would be made available through GPs, who would be open seven days a week.
However he sounded a note of caution by saying that it was impossible to know what percentage of the population would have to be vaccinated before life could return to normal – until the vaccine is widely available, it isn’t possible to say whether it would prevent cross-infection.
One of 11 vaccines in late stages of testing, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine takes a slightly different approach to others. Instead of using dead viral material, it uses a snippet of viral RNA which stimulates the production of antibodies and killer T-cells. It is claimed that in trials it prevented 90 percent of test patients from contracting COVID-19. Its developers, Pfizer and BioNTech, said it had been tested on 43,500 people, with no safety concerns raised, but no RNA vaccine has been approved for use before.
Pfizer and BioNTech say they have the manufacturing capacity to produce 50 million doses by the end of 2020 and 1.3 billion doses by the end of next year, and could partner with others to increase capacity even further. Some people, such as those with compromised immune systems, will not be able to use the vaccine, so work on other vaccines will continue on the assumption that some others may be helpful by working in a different way.
Pfizer and BioNTech now plan to apply for emergency approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to use the vaccine by the end of November, and say that some people may be able to receive it by the end of the year. The government has ordered 40 million doses, enough to treat 20 million subjects, since the vaccine requires two injections, three to four weeks apart.
Matt Hancock aid that the vaccine would be offered to people in the order established by the government’s previously announced plans, with the over-80s and care workers first, followed by other vulnerable groups. Children will not be vaccinated as they are not generally found to be susceptible to COVID-19.
Matt Hancock emphasised that in the meantime it was essential to maintain existing social isolation rules, since “This is still a deadly disease and this is not over yet.
“Even once we start to roll it out, we still need to look after ourselves, look after our community by following the rules and being careful to stop the spread of transmission.
“The NHS is ready, we’re prepared, I’ve put in the extra £150m today, the GPs are ready, we’re working with the pharmacists, the hospitals are going to play a very important role,” he said.
He admitted that while the trials can tell you if a vaccine is clinically safe and effective at protecting an individual from the disease, they can’t show until a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated how much it stops the transmission of the disease.
The logistics of administering the vaccine are complicated by the fact that it is manufactured in Belgium and has to be kept at -70C until a short time before it is administered.
News outlets noted that this announcement does not mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic, though they didn’t follow the Churchillian suggestion that it may be ‘the end of the beginning’.
Questions remain regarding the speed at which the vaccine could be administered, its effectiveness at preventing transmission, the period for which it confers immunity and its effectiveness in older people.
Meanwhile the government reported a further 21,350 coronavirus cases in the UK on Monday 10th November, along with 194 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
The testing programme started in Liverpool is planned to be rolled out to Nottinghamshire, while in Denmark, after an outbreak of a mutated coronavirus among mink farmers, plans to cull millions of farmed mink were dropped amidst arguments over the economic effects and the accuracy of the science.
There are ten other coronavirus vaccines in late trial stages, including from
- The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK
- Moderna in the US
- CanSino with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in China
- Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia
- Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China
- Sinovac and Instituto Butantan in Brazil
- Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China
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