MILLIONS of Brits could be waiting until next year before they can get a Covid vaccine, experts have said.
THE UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the NHS are on stand by to start rolling it out by the start of December.
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But the Covid-19 jab won’t be given to everyone straight away, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has today said.
Once it is approved, the vaccine will be available to most people by 2021, with the “bulk of the roll out” in the early part of the year, he said.
It comes after US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer revealed yesterday that its jab was 90 per cent effective and plans to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month.
If regulators give it the green light, the Prime Minister said Britain already has enough doses to vaccinate a third of the population.
But, who will get the jab first and how soon will it be rolled out?
When will the first jabs be available?
US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, working with German biotech company BioNTech, is the first to report their Covid vaccine is effective.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
Their interim results, published yesterday, show the jab can prevent 90 per cent of Covid-19 cases.
The next step is to wait to see the final safety data, before the company hopes to apply to regulators – the MHRA in the UK – for approval within weeks.
How many doses do we have?
Once the jab is given the green light, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS will be ready to begin administering the vaccine.
Of the 40million doses of Pfizer’s jab that the UK has secured, ten million can be ready by Christmas, the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday.
The Pfizer jab requires two jabs so five million people could be immunised by the end of the year, in the best case scenario.
It means the UK has enough doses to inoculate 20million Brits – a third of the population.
As well as the Pfizer jab, the UK Government has secured 300 million doses of five other vaccines that are also in development.
Among them, the Oxford University jab being developed with the pharma giant AstraZeneca, is thought to be another front runner.
Lead scientists Prof Andrew Pollard said last week there’s a “small chance” their vaccine could also be ready by Christmas.
The UK has pre-ordered 100million doses of that jab, but only four million of those could be ready by Christmas, Kate Bingham, head of the Government’s vaccines taskforce said last week.
Who will be vaccinated first?
It depends on how old you are – as age is the biggest risk factor when it comes to severe Covid-19.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) were tasked with coming up with a provisional priority list for the first Covid jabs – based on who is at highest risk of death.
Matt Hancock said today: “The JCVI have concluded age and if you work in health and social care, far outweighs any other risk factors.”
It’s expected the first doses will go to people over 85 and healthcare workers, providing the Pfizer jab is effective in older people – something that has yet to be published.
It is expected that all those under the age of 50 will be deemed lowest priority.
The JCVI’s interim guidance, which assumes the jab is safe and effective in all groups, says the order should be:
- Older adults in a care home and care home workers
- All those aged 80 and over and health and social care workers, though they may move up the list
- Anyone 75 and over
- People aged 70 and over
- All those aged 65 and over
- High-risk adults under 65
- Moderate-risk adults under 65
- All those aged 60 and over
- All those 55 and over
- All those aged 50 and over
- The rest of the population, with priority yet to be determined.
The JCVI said the prioritisation could change if the first jab were not deemed suitable for, or effective in, older adults.
But it could also change if more vaccines become available and are shown to work better in other age groups.
However, with a 90 per cent efficacy rate from interim findings, it’s expected that the Pfizer vaccine could work well.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics, University of Bristol, said: “It’s likely that if it’s less effective in elderly people than younger people it’ll still work to some extent.”
What about roll out in the UK?
Professor David Salisbury, who was director of immunisation at the Department of Health until 2013, said today that the roll out will be driven by supply.
“We need to protect people, those at high risk first,” he said. “And we need to protect services, so healthcare workers.
“The second thing is we need to stop transmissions. That will mean a very, very large number of people will need to be vaccinated, including healthy, young people.
“While they might not get ill they may still transmit the virus, and that might take longer.”
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the “expectation” is that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from clinical trials.
Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the UK vaccine taskforce, said she has 50 per cent confidence that by Easter or early summer next year, all vulnerable people in the country will have a vaccine.
But experts are cautious about whether any meaningful change will happen this side of the New Year.
Professor Eleanor Riley, an immunologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “With the best will in the world, this vaccine – or any other vaccine currently in trials – isn’t going to change things for the majority of us this winter.”
She said that if the elderly and vulnerable, as well as NHS and care home staff, are vaccinated before the end of the year at the very earliest, it will still take time to roll it out to enough people to substantially reduce the pool of highly vulnerable people.
She added: “This vaccine needs two doses, three weeks apart and it will take at least a week after the second vaccination before you are fully protected.
“So even if you were vaccinated on one day, you couldn’t be confident you were immune for at least a month after that.”
Prof Riley warned that the current strict measures are likely to remain in place “at least until the end of the winter, possibly longer”.
But on a more positive note, she said: “If this vaccine lives up to this early promise, and other vaccines work equally well, we may be able to look forward to a much better summer and autumn in 2021.”
Will the jabs be free on the NHS?
Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are needed, three weeks apart.
Trials in the US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey, showed 90 per cent protection is achieved seven days after the second dose.
The jabs will be made available through the NHS immunisation programme.
Like the flu jab, they will be optional, rather than made mandatory.
In the US, Pfizer agreed to provide 100 million doses of their jab for $1.95 billion or $19.50 a dose.
Does it mean the end of the pandemic is in sight?
While the Pfizer trial has yet to be peer-reviewed by experts, the science community reacted positively to the “breakthrough” findings.
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.”
Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, said Pfizer’s announcement “feels to me like a watershed moment” in the pandemic.
But others – while positive about the results – offered caution on whether an end is in sight.
Prof Robin Shattock, who is leading the trial of Imperial College London’s Covid vaccine, said: “It’s not yet the end game, but hopefully the beginning of global efforts to control this pandemic.
“A significant light at the end of the tunnel.”
Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said the results did not disclose the ages of participants.
“If a vaccine is to reduce severe disease and death, and thus enable the population at large to return to their normal day-to-day lives, it will need to be effective in older and elderly members of our society,” she said.
Boris Johnson welcomed news of the vaccine breakthrough but said it would be a mistake to “slacken our resolve at such a critical moment”.
He urged people to stick with the rules around coronavirus, saying there was still a long way to go.