Coronavirus vaccine to be rolled out at 7-day clinics – but you’ll need two jabs
Vaccination clinics will run seven days a week and be set up in places such as sports halls when the first coronavirus jab is rolled out in the UK.
The military and NHS staff are on standby to provide the new vaccine from the start of December, said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, although most people will not get a jab until 2021.
Care home residents, as well as care home and hospital staff are top of the list to get it first.
Speaking as tough lockdown restrictions are in place across the UK, Mr Hancock said it isn’t known how many people will need to be vaccinated before life can begin to return to normal.
Each person will need two doses for it to work effectively, and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine, expects it to be a yearly or seasonal jab as the immunity could wane over time.
Mr Hancock said there were many hurdles to overcome before the “vast task” of vaccination could begin, including regulatory approval of the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and assessment of its safety data.
But he said the NHS was leading work to get a vaccine to those most in need as soon as possible, though most people will not get a jab until 2021.
He told Sky News: “I’ve asked the NHS who are supported by the armed services in this – but the NHS very much leading this effort for deploying the vaccine – I’ve asked them to be ready from the start of December.
“And, of course, there are many hurdles that still need to be gone over and we haven’t seen the full safety data and obviously that is critical and we won’t deploy a vaccine unless we can be confident in its clinical safety.
“But we also do need to be ready should a vaccine be licensed and get through all those hurdles and ready to roll it out.”
Mr Hancock said it had always been his expectation that most people will not get a jab until 2021, with priority given to those in care homes, the elderly and health and social care staff.
“We’ve always been clear that our central expectation for the rollout of a vaccine should a vaccine come good… the central expectation of the bulk of the rollout and deployment has always been in the first part of 2021,” he said.
What is the new vaccine?
The RNA vaccine is being developed by New York-based Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech, and it will be put forward in the US for emergency approval by the end of November.
Pfizer said it was more than 90 per cent effective in preventing the disease during a large scale clinical trial.
The vaccine trains the immune system to fight off Covid-19, using a fragment of the virus’ genetic code.
Part of the virus is created inside the body, and it is attacked by the immune system.
It would become the first RNA vaccinate be approved for use in people, although that cannot happen until safety is assured.
The results have not been peer reviewed or published in a medical journal, and outside experts have expressed hope but also warned that the announcement from Pfizer should be met with a degree of caution as further study is required.
Who will get it first and how much will it cost?
Care home residents and staff will be the first to get an approved Covid-19 vaccine, according to Government guidance published in September.
Those over 80 and NHS staff will be second in line, followed by people aged over 75, over-70s, over-65s and high-risk adults under 65 with diseases such as cancer.
They will be followed by moderate risk adults under 65, including those with diabetes or asthma.
The final priority groups will be over-60s, over-55s and over-50s before it is given to the general population, likely based on priority factors such as age and underlying health conditions. That likely won’t happen for many months, however.
More than one vaccine could be used in the UK. The Government has ordered 300 million doses from six different companies.
The NHS will provide the vaccine for free.
Pfizer is reported to have struck deals with countries for about £15 a dose.
The Health Secretary said that once a vaccine becomes available, it will be delivered through care homes, GPs and pharmacists, as well as “go-to” vaccination centres set up in venues such as sports halls.
“We will be working across the NHS with the support of the armed forces seven days a week, over weekends, over bank holidays, to get this rolled out into people’s arms as quickly as possible,” he told BBC Breakfast.
He said the exact model would depend on which vaccine was adopted, with Oxford University and AstraZeneca expected to release results of their vaccine shortly.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in England, said practices would “stand ready” to deliver a vaccine, with clinics potentially running from 8am-8pm, seven days a week.
Why are two jabs necessary?
The UK Government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine – enough for about a third of the UK population.
It expects 10 million of these doses to arrive in the UK before the end of this year, with people given to doses, 21 days apart.
Two doses will be necessary to make sure the vaccine is effective.
For some vaccines, one dose is not enough to give people enough immunity from a virus. Two doses help to build more complete immunity.
Many vaccines, including those for chickenpox, Hepatitis A and shingles, require two doses.
Why won’t some people get it?
Some people, including those with weak immune systems, will not be able to have a vaccine due to the risk it could pose to them.
It is still to early to say if it could have long-term health effects.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they have so far found no serious safety concerns after testing the vaccine on 43,500 people in six countries.
Mild side effects, including aches and fevers, have been reported.
The vaccine must be approved by regulators in each country where it is to be used.
How long will protection last?
There is currently no answer to that question.
Pfizer has said it is likely that it will be a yearly or seasonal jab, similar to the flu.
In a new report, scientists at Penn State University in the US have warned that vaccine-makers must prepare for the possibility that Covid-19 could mutate and become resistant to vaccines.
When will life return to normal?
A vaccine won’t immediately bring the pandemic to an end, and it does not mean the end of Covid-19.
Mr Hancock told Sky News he was “not going to put a date on” when life may get back to normal after Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, said he was confident people could look forward to a return to normal life by the spring.
“This is promising news, but it is one step of many that we need to take to get out of this and to tackle this pandemic once and for all,” Mr Hancock added.
In a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed news of the vaccine breakthrough but said it would be a mistake to “slacken our resolve at such a critical moment”.
He urged people to stick with the rules around coronavirus, saying there was still a long way to go.
Experts have warned that face masks, social distancing and other measures will likely last well into 2021.
Will it be compulsory for children?
Mr Hancock said the vaccine would not be required for children and that uptake would be voluntary.
“We are not proposing to make this compulsory – not least because I think the vast majority of people are going to want to have it,” he said.
Mr Hancock urged people not to drop their guard and stop following the rules around social distancing, saying coronavirus is “still a deadly disease”.
Experts have expressed concerns that storing and transporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine might be difficult.
It must be stored at temperatures below -70C for it to remain stable and still work when it is injected.
Otherwise it could become chemically unstable and fail to work properly.
Mr Hancock said: “The Pfizer vaccine needs to be held at minus 70C until the last few hours before it is deployed, which obviously makes things more complicated.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is a bit easier to deploy logistically.”
The Cabinet minister acknowledged there was “enormous complexity” in storing and administering the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept in cold storage.
“Also, you can’t take it out of that freezer more than four times on its journey from the manufacturing plant into the arm of patients… so that brings its complications,” he said.
“I’m sure that the NHS is going to rise to this challenge of deployment, and we’ve been working on it for four months now.
“What I’d say is this is a promising step, but there’s many steps still to come.”
What is the latest on the Oxford vaccine?
Regarding progress on the vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca, Mr Hancock said he did not know when their first data would be released.
“We’re not exactly sure when further news will come from the Oxford trial,” he said.
“But we’re working again to ensure that that can be deployed, should it come off.”
The Pfizer announcement is good news for other vaccine developers.
About 12 vaccines are currently in the final stages of clinical development.