BRITAIN has enough Covid vaccine doses to immunise the entire population – with 24 million to get the jab before Easter.
Regulators approved the “game-changing” Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine today with the roll out set to begin on Monday and the makers promising to deliver two million doses a week.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the vaccine as a “great British success story” which will help the country out of the pandemic “by spring”.
He told MPs this afternoon that the vaccine would mean the day on which restrictions are lifted can be brought forward – before announcing millions more Brits would be plunged into tougher Tier 4 restrictions.
The jab, from Oxford and AstraZeneca, could give up to 70 per cent protection 22 days after the first dose, experts today revealed.
People won’t need their second dose for another three months – allowing medics to roll the first jabs out to as many people as possible.
Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 50 million people, with 530,000 doses available from Monday, Mr Hancock said.
Along with the 40 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, the UK now has enough doses ordered to vaccinate the entire population, Mr Hancock said.
Hailing the approval as “fantastic news, the Health Secretary today confirmed its roll-out would begin on January 4.
Mr Hancock said the plan is to vaccinate all vulnerable groups first but that eventually all adults, including the under-50s, will be offered a jab.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: “The under-50s… firstly they’ll get the vaccine if they are clinically vulnerable to coronavirus and if they’ve been receiving letters during the whole pandemic about shielding and the specific arrangements that are necessary for those who are clinically vulnerable.”
“If you get those letters, then you’re on the clinically vulnerable list and you’ll be pulled forward, including if you’re under the age of 50.
“And then once we’ve vaccinated all of them, and the over-50s, which is a significant chunk of the population, then we will continue to vaccinate the under-50s, even though the likelihood of dying from the disease is much lower if you’re under the age of 50.
“Because we’ve got enough of this vaccine on order to vaccinate the whole population – we’ve got 100 million doses on order – add that to the 30 million doses of Pfizer and that’s enough for two doses for the entire population.
“So I can now say with confidence that we can vaccinate everyone, except of course for children because this vaccine has not been trialled on children, and anyway children are much, much less likely to have symptoms from the disease.”
He told Sky News: “We are confident we can get out of the pandemic by the spring.”
And later added: “It’s very good news for accelerating the vaccine roll-out. It brings forward the day we can get our lives back to normal.
“The vaccine is our way out of the pandemic.”
It is truly fantastic news – and a triumph for British science – that the @UniofOxford /@AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use. We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
Mr Hancock refused to say how many people could be inoculated in the new year, but confirmed two dosed of the jab would be given 12 weeks apart.
“This is important because it means that we can get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection the first dose gives you,” he said.
“The scientists and the regulators have looked at the data and found that you get what they call ‘very effective protection’ from the first dose.
“The second dose is still important – especially for the long-term protection – but it does mean that we will be able to vaccinate more people more quickly than we previously could.”
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme deliveries will be ramped up “very rapidly” in the first and second week of January.
He added: “The vaccination will start next week and we will get to one million a week and beyond that very rapidly.
“We can go to two million. In January we will already possibly be vaccinating several million people and by the end of the first quarter we are going to be in the tens of millions already.”
Asked whether two million vaccinations per week was possible, Mr Hancock told Times Radio: “That’s absolutely deliverable by the NHS.”
“We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the jab is “safe and effective”, adding: “It is very good news that the independent regulator has now authorised for use the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said the regulator has been conducting a “rolling review” of the vaccine.
She also told a press briefing today that the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca was released last night in preparation of a mass roll out.
“No stone is left unturned when it comes to our assessments,” she said.
“This approval means more people can be protected against this virus and will help save lives.
“This is another significant milestone in the fight against this virus.
“We will continue to support and work across the healthcare system to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out safely across the UK.
“Protecting health and improving lives is our mission and what we strive for.”
When questioned about the efficacy of the vaccines, Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: “The data shared with us – and I’m not sure it is entirely in the public domain – calculated the vaccine efficacy between day 22 of dose one to the time of dose two being given, and the figure is around 70 per cent, but I don’t think I should be revealing any more than that.”
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines expert working group on Covid-19 vaccines, said: “With regard to protection after the first dose, from the data that was given to us, protection starts after day 22 after the first dose.
“We were able to identify data which suggested that the protection is afforded till at least three months, and hence the reason for the interval dosing of between four to 12 weeks for the second dose.”
‘GUIDED BY THE SCIENCE’
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, will publish its latest guidance on who should receive the vaccine and in which order later.
Data published in The Lancet medical journal in early December showed the vaccine was 62 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 among a group of 4,440 people given two standard doses of the vaccine when compared with 4,455 people given a placebo drug.
Of 1,367 people given a half first dose of the vaccine followed by a full second dose, there was 90 per cent protection against Covid-19 when compared with a control group of 1,374 people.
Though cheaper and easier to distribute than rival vaccines, the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot has been plagued with questions about its most effective dosage ever since data published last month showed some surprising results.
While other regulators have taken a more cautious approach, Britain’s MHRA was at pains to say it had resolved early doubts and – unexpectedly – that it had found an 80 per cent success rate for the administration of two full doses, three months apart, higher than the average that the developers themselves had found.
It today authorised two full doses of the vaccine to be given to people.
The government plans to take advantage by giving the first dose to a larger number of people most at risk from Covid-19 before starting to administer the boosters.
An advisory body recommended doing the same with the Pfizer shot, though Pfizer said its vaccine had not been tested on different dosing schedules.
How does the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine work?
The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.
Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).
The virus is genetically modified so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus’s specific “spike protein” – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.
When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus.
This induces an immune response, priming the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.
It differs from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because they use messenger RNA technology (mRNA).
Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus’s genetic code.
An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.
These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.
No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine. This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is accelerated
In the vaccine trial, 10 people given the placebo dummy drug were admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including two with severe Covid which resulted in one death.
But among those receiving the vaccine, there were no hospital admissions or severe cases.
People receiving the Oxford vaccine or the one from Pfizer/BioNTech, which is also being rolled out, will now receive their first dose of the vaccine followed by a second dose up to 12 weeks later.
The aim is to give as many people as possible a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford trial, said: “Though this is just the beginning, we will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere, as many as possible as soon possible.”
Some 15million of the UK’s most vulnerable are set to get the inoculation by late February, officials hope.
It means that within weeks, Britain could be free of lockdowns altogether – and people can finally hug their loved ones.
As of Boxing Day, 24million people in the south and east are now in the country’s strictest Tier 4, with non-essential shops closed and household mixing banned.
Boris Johnson said the tough rules are needed to tackle a mutant strain of Covid surging through the country.
Following a meeting of Covid-O last night, the Health Secretary today announced millions more would be placed under tough Tier 4 restrictions.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, he said: “Sharply rising cases and the hospitalisations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.”
The Health Secretary told MPs that the majority of new cases recorded yesterday “are believed to be the new variant”.
Mr Hancock added: “Unfortunately, this new variant is now spreading across most of England and cases are doubling fast.
“It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a wider area, including the remaining parts of the South East, as well as large parts of the Midlands, the North West, the North East and the South West.”
But Mr Hancock said that the Oxford vaccine means the day on which restrictions are lifted can be brought forward.
Our two experts behind success
By Shaun Wooller
A CRACK team of British scientists are behind the breakthrough Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
They are led by top vaccinology professor Sarah Gilbert and Andrew Pollard, a professor of paediatric infection and immunity.
Prof Gilbert, 58, told how she first read on New Year’s Day this year about a new virus emerging in China.
The mother of grown-up triplets said she knew she could work without much rest and endured some sleepless nights along the way.
She said she was “very happy” with the vaccine’s performance.
Prof Pollard, 55, is director of the Oxford vaccine group.
He also chairs the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation which advises UK health departments and has published more than 500 manuscripts and books.
He told MPs: “It brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions that no-one in this House wants to see any longer than are absolutely necessary.
“But we must act to suppress the virus now, not least because the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult.
“And so whilst we have the good news of the vaccine today, we also have to take some difficult decisions.”
The UK’s Vaccines Minister told The Sun the massive effort to develop a vaccine had been heroic – and displayed “the best of British at every stage”.
Nadhim Zahawi said: “The heroic efforts of the team at the University of Oxford have paid off, with its home-grown vaccine shown to be effective in older people as well as young.
“From day one of the pandemic, people from across the nation have been working day and night to find a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine.
“We have seen the best of British at every stage, from our world-leading scientists working around the clock to carry out vital research, to builders and engineers constructing new facilities.
“Manufacturers are boosting their capabilities and hundreds of thousands of people in every corner of the UK are taking part in clinical trials — developing, finding and preparing for a vaccine has involved us all.”
The UK has already ordered a whopping 100million doses of the jab – adding to the 40million vaccines already paid for from Pfizer.
Around 800,000 Brits have been given the first of two Pfizer shots, Boris Johnson has revealed.
But just 10 days ago, Jeremy Hunt warned stocks of the drug – the first to be approved anywhere in the world – were running low, and may not be replenished until March.
However, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency’s approval of the Oxford’s jabs mean they can be given to millions from the week beginning January 4, even if further Pfizer stocks slow until the spring.
Sports stadiums and conference centres will be used as massive vaccination hubs, with ministers planning to have two million jab administered within a fortnight.
THE SUN SAYS
SO this grim year draws to an end on the most bittersweet of notes.
On the one hand, fantastic news on both the approval of the Oxford vaccine and Brexit finally being done gives us a glimpse of what next year could herald for Britain.
If all goes according to plan, 24million vulnerable Brits will be inoculated between January and Easter.
Pressure on the NHS will then surely quickly and dramatically recede.
And at long last, we can begin to wave goodbye to lockdowns, to the dreaded tier system, to social distancing — and to all the other miserable restrictions which have kept us from people we love.
As for Britain’s relationship with Europe, the new year marks a glorious new chapter.
Britain begins 2021 as the fully independent country it was always meant to be — ready to enjoy a healthy, happy and productive relationship with our European neighbours.
And the cherry on the cake? Just 73 MPs voted against the deal. So the issue which has ripped the nation in half can — not before time — be put to bed.
But this brave new world still feels a long way off.
Right now, infections are rising fast and deaths are following the same trend. Some hospitals are approaching breaking point. As a result, Britain is still living under draconian restrictions.
The Government’s unexpected and unwelcome decision to keep schools in Tier 4 areas closed for at least two weeks alarms us, too.
This includes primaries in the worst affected areas attended by hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged pupils — who, as we learnt during the last lockdown, suffer the most.
Which is why we say this to the Prime Minister today: We need this vaccine — and we need it fast.
There can be no more broken promises. No more delays. No more logistical cock-ups.
Freedom is at our fingertips. It cannot escape our grasp.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Oxford drug can be kept in a standard fridge – rather than at an ultra-cold -70C.
That means it’s cheaper and easier to transport and store, with the jabs set to be manufactured in Oxford and Newcastle.
The good news is much-needed as Brits face a new mutation in the virus.
The variation, found in Kent, spreads much more easily, although is not believed to otherwise be more dangerous.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said there is “some evidence that the increase may be particularly marked in children.”
They found that the new strain of the virus is 56 per cent more infectious – and that even with another national lockdown, it would be difficult to get the R rate down.
But politicians are hopeful that the pandemic may soon be under control.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak believes 2021 will be a “new era” for Britain.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday he said: “This has been a tough year for everyone in this country.
“There will be tough days and months ahead, but there are reasons to look ahead to a brighter future and what 2021 promises.
“The early roll-out of vaccines – and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS – means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic.”
And last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The great hope for 2021 is of course the vaccine.
“The vaccine is our route out of all this, and however tough this Christmas and this winter is going to be, we know that the transforming force of science is helping to find a way through.”
Q) Who can get a Covid vaccine?
A) Every adult in Britain will be able to get one unless doctors advise against it for medical reasons. New guidelines say women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can now have the jab if medics believe the benefits outweigh the risks.
Q) When will I get it?
A) The vaccines will be given first to 22million people who are at the highest risk of dying from Covid and those who work for the NHS or in care homes. Government advisers have published a list of the priority groups which vaccinators will work through in order. It reads:
1 Care home residents and their carers.
2 All those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers.
3 All those over 75.
4 All over 70s and clinically vulnerable individuals.
5 All 65s and over.
6 All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.
7 All those aged 60 and over.
8 All aged 55 and over.
9 All aged 50 years and over.
Matt Hancock hopes all OAPs will be vaccinated by the end of February and the rest of the list by spring. Attention will then turn to everybody else, with remaining key workers next most likely.
Q) Can I buy it?
A) The vaccines are provided free on the NHS and cannot be bought privately in the UK. People must wait their turn and cannot jump the queue. The NHS will invite people for the vaccine by phone, text or letter.
Q) Where will I get it?
A) It will be available from GP surgeries, hospitals and mass vaccination centres located in major sporting venues and conference centres.
Q) Can I choose which vaccine I receive?
A) The UK has only approved two for use so far — one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
Brits will not be able to choose which of these they receive, with the decision dictated by supply and where the vaccine is given. Health officials say both are safe and effective.
Both vaccines require two doses and the second dose should be the same brand as the first.
Q) What is the gap between doses?
A) The second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be offered three to 12 weeks after the first and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine four to 12 weeks after the first. But they will typically be given 12 weeks apart.
Q) How effective are the vaccines?
A) Trials suggest the Oxford vaccine is 73 per cent effective 22 days after the first dose, rising to 80 per cent if the second dose is taken 12 weeks later.
There were no admissions to hospital or severe disease in people receiving the vaccine. Trials show the Pfizer vaccine is 95 per cent effective.
Q) Can I return to normal life once I have been vaccinated?
A) Not yet. Even those who have been vaccinated will still be bound by the law and local tier restrictions. The vaccines protect those who have had it but it is unclear if they reduce transmission, meaning they may still infect others.
Q) Why will the Oxford jab speed up vaccination?
A) It is cheaper and easier to transport, store and use. It costs around £3 per dose compared with £15 for Pfizer’s. The Pfizer jab is made in Belgium and must be stored at -70C and thawed and used within days of delivery.
The Oxford jab is produced in Oxfordshire and Staffordshire and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.
Q) Are the vaccines safe?
A) Yes. Both have gone through all of the usual clinical trials and have been tested on thousands of people.
Q) Will the vaccines protect against the mutant strain of Covid?
A) Public Health England is conducting tests but early indications are that both will protect against the wild strain and mutant strain of the virus.