The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for widespread use, with vaccinations gearing up to start as early as next week.
In studies, the vaccine has been found to be 95 per cent effective, as well as remaining effective across all age groups.
The UK has ordered 40 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people, as the vaccine is administered twice, 21 days apart.
Roughly 10 million doses are expected to be made available for use in the UK in the next few weeks for priority groups, including healthcare workers.
‘The vaccine has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness’
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved the vaccine after “months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts” from the regulator.
They said that they have concluded that the vaccine has “met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
The spokesperson added, “The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.
“The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.
“To aid the success of the vaccination programme, it is vital everyone continues to play their part and abide by the necessary restrictions in their area so we can further suppress the virus and allow the NHS to do its work without being overwhelmed.”
Who will get the vaccine first
The full prioritisation list can be found here and is as follows (in order of priority):
Residents in a care home for older adults and their carersAll those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workersAll those 75 years of age and overAll those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individualsAll those 65 years of age and overAll individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortalityAll those 60 years of age and overAll those 55 years of age and overAll those 50 years of age and over
Three modes of delivery
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that there would be “three modes of delivery” of the vaccine, with hospitals, mass vaccination centres, GPs and pharmacists offering the injections to those most in need.
He explained, “Fifty hospitals across the country are already set up and waiting to receive the vaccine as soon as it’s approved, so that can now happen.”
Hancock said that the vaccinations will begin with the most elderly, people in care homes and their carers, before coming down the age range, with NHS staff and the clinically extremely vulnerable also high on the priority list.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said, “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better, and help is on its way with this vaccine.
“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.”
One of the challenges posed by the vaccine is that it needs to be stored at an extremely low temperature of around -70C.
Hancock said, “This is a challenging rollout and the NHS in all parts of the UK stands ready to make that happen.
“They are used to handling vaccines and medicines like this, with these sorts of conditions. It’s not easy but we’ve got those plans in place.”
Hancock said, "This is a momentous occasion and provides fresh hope that we can beat this pandemic, with the UK at the forefront of this revolutionary breakthrough.
“I can’t thank enough every single person who has contributed to this triumph - from the thousands of volunteers who took part in clinical trials, to the teams of expert scientists and clinicians at the MHRA who carefully analysed reams of data.
“This vaccine, when combined with effective treatments, will form a vital part in making Covid-19 a manageable disease, hopefully allowing us to return to normality in the future.
“This work will take time so for now we must all play our part and abide by the local restrictions to suppress the virus and protect the NHS as they start this vital work.”
‘Best news in a long time’
Many prominent figures in the government have expressed their thoughts on the news.
Nadhim Zahawi, the newly appointed minister responsible for overseeing the vaccination rollout, tweeted, “Major step forward in the fight against Covid-19 today.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said, “Since the start of the pandemic, every single person has made an immense sacrifice to protect themselves, their loved ones and the health of our nation. Through it all, we have remained united to defeat a virus that has taken too many before their time.
“As a nation we owe every scientist, clinician and trial volunteer an enormous debt of gratitude for their victory won against odds that at times seemed impossible. It is thanks to their efforts, and of our Vaccine Taskforce, that the UK was the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech and will now be the first to deploy their vaccine.
“While today’s breakthrough is a positive one, we will not end the pandemic overnight. But in years to come, we will look back and remember this moment as the day the United Kingdom led humanity’s charge against this terrible disease.”
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said that it was the “best news in a long time.”
She tweeted, “@scotgov ready to start vaccinations as soon as supplies arrive.”
‘Largest scale vaccination campaign in UK history’
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the vaccination programme would be the “largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.”
He said, “This is an important next step in our response to the coronavirus pandemic and hospitals will shortly kick off the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.
“The NHS has a proven track record of delivering large-scale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to BCG and, once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in England’s hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a programme that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said, “This is a remarkable day - congratulations to Pfizer/BioNTech and their researchers, and to all my colleagues in the Vaccine Taskforce for their tremendous work to get us to this point, and I want to thank the MHRA experts, including the experts at the Commission on Human Medicines, who have tirelessly and rigorously assessed the safety, effectiveness and quality of the vaccine.
“This vaccine has now passed all of the extensive checks needed for authorisation to supply and will soon be ready to be delivered to the NHS.
“To all those who are eligible – this is the start of vaccine supply for the UK. In time, you will be invited to book your appointments to get your vaccinations. I urge you to be ready, and to help make the process as smooth as possible. For now, stay patient, and keep yourselves safe by continuing to follow the rules and maintaining social distancing.