Covid-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine judged safe for use in the UK from next week but PM says don’t get your hopes up too soon over early vaccination.
The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for mass vaccination.
Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.
The first 800,000 doses will be available in the UK from next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
People should wait to be contacted by the NHS, he added.
Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.
But because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, as required, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there – for care home staff, NHS staff and patients – so none of the vaccine is wasted.
Don’t get hopes up too soon over vaccine speed – PM
The first 800,000 doses means 400,000 people can be vaccinated because of the two doses required.
Sir Keir Starmer pointed out there are more than 400,000 people in the top priority groups identified by the prime minister, meaning they won’t all be vaccinated next week.
He asks when people in the top two priority groups will get the jab.
In reply, Boris Johnson says the UK will roll out the vaccine “as fast as we possibly can” when millions of doses are delivered.
But he says it is important people “don’t get their hopes up too soon” about the speed it can be rolled out.
Starmer also raises concerns that delivery of vaccines into care homes will be difficult due to temperatures of -70C at which the vaccine must be stored.
Johnson acknowledges there are “logistical challenges” but says his government is working to distribute the vaccine as fast as possible to vulnerable groups.
He adds that it is also important to get the Oxford University vaccine ready as it can be more easily stored.
Vaccine being prepared ‘very, very quickly’ for UK
Here’s a little more from the briefing in Germany by BioNTech, which is the company behind the vaccine.
Sean Marett, who is in charge of distribution of the vaccine for BioNTech, says the doses for the UK are currently being packed in Belgium ready for shipping “very, very quickly”.
These go into “thermo boxes” which are temperature controlled and hold between 1,000 and 5,000 doses, he explains, which will either be shipped by lorry or plane to the UK.
Explaining how the vaccine, which needs to be kept at very cold temperatures, can be distributed to care homes, he says studies have shown that the vaccine can be transported in bags at temperatures of 2-8C for up to six hours.
He says they are “absolutely delighted” about getting approval from the UK today but they are “not stopping there” with US and EU announcements due in the next few weeks.
The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.
The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the free jab – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Mr Hancock said, with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.
But the bulk of the rollout will be next year, he added. “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better,” said Mr Hancock.
“I’m confident now, with the news 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.”
Boris Johnson added: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”