By Holly Giles | Deputy Editor
The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK from December 31, with the first doses expected to be administered from January 4. There will be 530,000 doses available from next week with those first to receive the vaccine including care home residents, those over 80 and health and care workers.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which due to the need to receive two vaccinations, is enough to vaccinate 50 million people. Wales is predicted to receive 22,000 doses next week, according to the Welsh Government. This means that everyone over 50 and those with health conditions can expect to receive the vaccine in the near-future.
The vaccine has been made through taking genes for the spike protein found on the surface of coronavirus and isolating it into a vaccine form. This is then injected into the patient where it enters cells and causes them to produce the spike protein on their surface. This triggers an immune response, involving the production of antibodies and T cells which destroy the spike protein. Antibodies remain in the body so that if the patient is exposed to coronavirus again, they are triggered and are able to fight the virus more effectively and quickly so the patient should not become ill or spread the virus on to others.
In clinical trials it has been shown to have 62% effectiveness, compared with the 95% efficiency reported of the Pfizer vaccine. With both these vaccines, it is hoped that two million patients a week could receive a vaccine for COVID-19. A figure that is hoped to increase as further vaccines come to light.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is similar to the Pfizer vaccine in that it also needs two doses, but the second can be given four to 12 weeks after the first. The immunisation campaign has decided to give as many people their first dose of the vaccine, with the second to follow at an unspecified date, in the hope that it will provide vulnerable people with some protection. The other key difference of this vaccine is that it can be kept in temperatures of a normal fridge, meaning it is easier to use in the community setting and means many remote areas will now be able to receive it.
Reflecting on the approval, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, described it as a “triumph” , explaining: “We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
This sentiment was echoed by Matt Hancok, UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the statement: “This is a moment to celebrate British innovation – not only are we responsible for discovering the first treatment to reduce mortality for Covid-19, this vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease. It is a tribute to the incredible UK scientists at Oxford University and AstraZeneca whose breakthrough will help to save lives around the world. I want to thank every single person who has been part of this British success story. While it is a time to be hopeful, it is so vital everyone continues to play their part to drive down infections.”
When the approval was announced, Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, told: “Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit. We would like to thank our many colleagues at AstraZeneca, Oxford University, the UK government and the tens of thousands of clinical trial participants.”
With the rising COVID-19 rates and over 44 million people bringing in the New Year under tier 4 restrictions, the approval could not have come at a better time and brings many the hope they need that 2021 will be a brighter one.