Britain’s medicines regulator the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approved the jab on Wednesday morning, certifying it as safe to roll out across the country as soon as possible.
Hailing the “fantastic news,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that vaccinations will begin “from early next week”.
So who will be first in line for this “breakthrough” Covid-19 jab? And how does the vaccine itself work?
Who will be the first to get a Covid vaccine?
Vaccine experts advising the Government have set out a detailed list of who should get offered the jab first.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from the disease and who is at highest risk of death.
It published interim guidance earlier in the year, but this has now been amended slightly.
Under the new guidance, those who are deemed to be “clinically extremely vulnerable” have moved higher up the priority list, which is as follows:
– Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
– All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
– All those 75 years of age and over
– All those 70 years of age and over and people deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable
– All those 65 years of age and over
– All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
– All those 60 years of age and over
– All those 55 years of age and over
– All those 50 years of age and over.
– The rest of the population, with priority yet to be determined.
What is the Pfizer vaccine?
Analysis shows that the jab, developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech, can protect 95 per cent of people from contracting Covid-19, including 94 per cent in older age groups.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
What type of vaccine is it?
The jab is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.
Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus’s genetic code. This means no actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine and the rate at which it is produced can be dramatically accelerated.
As a result, mRNA vaccines have been hailed as potentially offering a rapid solution to new outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Is it safe?
All vaccines undergo rigorous testing and have oversight from experienced regulators.
Some believe mRNA vaccines are safer for the patient as they do not rely on any element of the virus being injected into the body.
mRNA vaccines have been tried and tested in the lab and on animals before moving to human studies.
The human trials of mRNA vaccines – involving tens of thousands of people worldwide – have been going on since early 2020 to show whether they are safe and effective.
Pfizer will continue to collect safety and long-term outcomes data from participants for two years.
How does the Oxford vaccine differ to Pfizer’s?
How many doses has the UK secured?
The UK has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with 10 million due in the UK by the end of the year.
Patients need two doses, meaning not enough shots have been bought to immunise everyone in the country.
The Government has access to almost 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab – almost enough for the entire population.
It also belatedly struck a deals for seven million doses of the jab on offer from Moderna in the US.
The deals cover four different classes: adenoviral vaccines, mRNA vaccines, inactivated whole virus vaccines and protein adjuvant vaccines.
How might a rollout of the vaccine work in the UK?
Work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure that NHS staff are ready to start delivering jabs to the most vulnerable, as well as health and care workers, as a priority.
The NHS Nightingale Hospitals have also been earmarked as sites for mass vaccination clinics – among other uses.
In addition, NHS leaders have said there will be “roving teams” deployed to vaccinate care home residents and workers.
Covid vaccine clinics could run from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, leading doctors have suggested, with GPs in England given information on how to prepare for a mass rollout.
According to the British Medical Association (BMA), the correspondence says that the NHS and GP practices must be prepared for “rapid delivery” in the event that a vaccine gets approved for use by regulators.
GPs have been told to prepare to give patients two vaccine doses, which are to be delivered between 21 and 28 days apart.
The BMA said due to the logistics and delivery requirements, it’s likely that groups of GP practices will need to work together with one “designated vaccination site”.
“Working together, practices will need to be prepared to offer vaccinations seven days a week so that the vaccine is delivered within its short shelf-life and so patients receive it as soon as possible,” it added.
“Practices will need to work together to decide which one practice (or another appropriate site) is used for the vaccination site, remembering the need for provision to be potentially available 8am-8pm, seven days a week.”
GPs will be paid £12.58 per vaccine delivered and practices will be provided with the appropriate medical kit and personal protective equipment.
What other vaccines exist?
There are more than 200 coronavirus vaccine candidates being tested around the world.
About 12 of them are in the final stages of testing, but Pfizer is the first to report any results.
The two frontrunners in the Covid-19 vaccine race are the one from Pfizer, called BNT162b2, and the one being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which is also in phase three clinical trials.
Other potential vaccines in phase three trials include ones by US drugs firm Moderna and biotech company Novavax.
When can we expect results from the Oxford and Moderna vaccines?
A rollout is expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the MHRA.
Oxford data indicates the vaccine has 62 per cent efficacy when one full dose is given followed by another full dose, but when people were given a half dose followed by a full dose at least a month later, its efficacy rose to 90 per cent.
The combined analysis from both dosing regimes resulted in an average efficacy of 70.4 per cent.
Final results from the trials of Moderna’s vaccine suggest it has 94.1 per cent efficacy, and 100 pacer cent efficacy against severe Covid-19.
Nobody who was vaccinated with the vaccine known as mRNA-1273 developed severe coronavirus.
Moderna said the trial results indicate the jab is generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns.
The US company is in the process of seeking regulatory approval for its vaccine with regulators across the world.
If approved for use in the UK, it could be rolled out in the spring.
Does this mean life will return to normal soon?
Life will go back to a “new normal”, but “we’re not there yet”, according to David Nabarro, co-director of Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation.
He said: “Even if a vaccine arrives in the near future we’ve got many months of still dealing with the virus as a constant threat that we’ve got to make certain that we continue to do all that is necessary to solve the virus causing major problems.”
However, Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, indicated people could look forward to a normal life in the coming months.
Asked if life will return to normal by spring 2021, he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am probably the first guy to say that but I will say that with some confidence.”