Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine approved for UK use

Nicholas Cecil and Ross Lydall
·6-min read
<p>Approved: Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine</p> (Jeremy Selwyn)

Approved: Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine

(Jeremy Selwyn)

A Covid-19 jab has been approved in Britain, ministers announced today.

Britain’s medicines regulator gave the go-ahead for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The UK is believed to be the first country in the world to give such approval and it will be available across the country from next week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News said: “This is fantastic news.

“We will have it ready early next week.

“From early next week, we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country,” with 800,000 doses set to arrive next week.

Fifty hospitals across England are waiting to receive the vaccine, he added, which is being manufactured in Belgium.

Big vaccination centres will be set up and a community roll-out will involve GPs and pharmacists.

Several million of the Pfizer jabs are expected to be delivered to the UK before Christmas, with the armed forces involved in the logistics of distributing the vaccine.

Trials have shown it to be more than 90 per cent effective but it has to be stored at minus 70 degrees C so is not the easiest vaccine to use.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is also considering whether to give approval to a vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca which does not have to be stored at minus 70 and so would be easier to use.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford jabs.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.

“This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.

“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will shortly also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week. The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.

“To aid the success of the vaccination programme it is vital everyone continues to play their part and abide by the necessary restrictions in their area so we can further suppress the virus and allow the NHS to do its work without being overwhelmed.”

The Government has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with around five million possibly due in the UK by the end of the year.

Patients need two doses, 21 days apart, meaning not enough shots have been secured for the entire UK population.

In a day of great hope after so many grim months of the Covid pandemic, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Help is on its way.

“The MHRA has formally authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19.

“The NHS stands ready to start vaccinating early next week.

“The UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply.”

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, including reportedly the ExCel Centre in East London, 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.

The JCVI has examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from coronavirus and who is at highest risk of death.

Its interim guidance says the order of priority should be older adults in a care home and care home workers, all those who are 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers, all those who are 75 years of age and over, all those who are 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, excluding pregnant women and those under 18 years of age, all those who are 65 years of age and over, adults aged 18 to 65 years in an at-risk group, and then going down the age groups.

Mr Hancock appealed to people to keep following social distancing and self-isolation rules, warning the country still had to get through a “difficult winter”.

But he told BBC Breakfast: “From spring onwards, things are going to get better.

“We are going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy.”

He urged people to “come forward” to have the jab, when invited by the NHS, and emphasised the bulk of the vaccination programme would take place next year.

The UK has secured access to 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, Some 30 million doses from Janssen, 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 60 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Valneva, 60 million doses of protein adjuvant vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur and seven million doses of the jab on offer from Moderna in the US.

Pfizer/BioNTech is making its vaccine available not-for-profit.

According to reports, the Moderna vaccine could cost about 38 dollars (£28) per dose and the Pfizer candidate could cost around 20 dollars (£15).

Researchers suggest the Oxford vaccine could be relatively cheap to produce, with some reports indicating it could be about £3 per dose.

AstraZeneca said it will not sell it for a profit, so it can be available to all countries.

Vaccines normally take years to develop, however, scientists have produced several within months.

Regulators have also been provided with details of trials as they have been carried out to stop a delay in approving the vaccines.

It means a process, which normally takes months, has been condensed into weeks.

Britain passed emergency laws so the MHRA could approve vaccines at speed, rather than the EU regulator which is expected to take several more weeks to do so, a fact being trumpeted by Brexiteers.

Vaccines herald an end to the epidemic, which has claimed so many lives.

Figures yesterday showed a further 13,430 people tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK while a further 603 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test - taking the total by that measure to 59,051.

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