By Holly Giles | Deputy Editor
After releasing a statement that it was 90% effective last month, the Pfizer vaccine has now received approval and been classed as safe to use; it is expected to be administered in the UK from next week. This makes the UK the first country in the world to licence a vaccine against COVID-19.
The Pfizer vaccine received authorisation for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MRHA) this week. The first doses have already been produced and 800,000 doses are expected to arrive imminently.
When reflecting on this news, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:
“This is fantastic news. The MRHA, the fiercely independent regulator, has clinically authorised the vaccine for rollout. The NHS stands ready to make that happen. From early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against COVID-19 here in this country. The MRHA have approved it as clinically safe and we have a vaccine, so it’s very good news”.
Those predicted to be the first to receive the vaccine include elderly people in care homes and care home staff, followed by the over-80s and those working in healthcare.
The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at -70C so it is expected that the majority of administrations will take place in hospitals as these already have the facilities to store and maintain the vaccines at these low temperatures.
Whilst this news is very promising for many, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged the public not to get “carried away with over optimism or falling into the naive belief that our struggle is over”. He went on to explain that there are still significant logistical barriers to overcome before the battle against COVID-19 can be won.
One of these logistical barriers is the temperature requirement; this is the reason why Welsh Health and Social Care Minister, Vaughan Gething, said it would not be possible to vaccinate more than 1,000 care homes in Wales due to their remote location and inability to keep the vaccine cold. This may mean only patients who are able to get to a hospital can be vaccinated until the Oxford University vaccine, which is easier to distribute, is also approved.
To date, the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the jab which, due to the need for two doses, equates to immunisation for 20 million people. The first set of vaccinations are expected next week with “several millions” to follow throughout December, as reported by Mr Hancock. He continued to say:
“I’m confident now, with the news of today, that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better. And we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy”.
Mr Johnson added to this thought in his statement: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again”.
The vaccine will be free and non-compulsory, with plans to deliver it from hospitals, vaccination centres and in the community through GPs and pharmacists. Once there are sufficient supplies, it has been projected that the UK could start delivering more than one million doses each week, making it one of “the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history” explained NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.
Throughout 2021, everyone over the age of 50 can be expected to be offered the vaccination, as well as younger people with pre-existing health conditions.
Whilst there are still barriers to overcome, this approval puts one of the largest barriers behind us. It will take time to vaccinate everyone and for life to go back to normal, but it is now clear that normality is both possible and not too far in the distant future.