The news today that a 95% effective Covid-19 (coronavirus) vaccine has been authorised by the UK medicines regulator means that in just a fortnight, some of the first Bedfordians could receive their inoculations.
The announcement has been welcomed by health professionals and local leaders, with Cllr Louise Jackson, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing at Bedford Borough Council saying, “This is really exciting news, and it means that there’s hope of a return to normality next year.
“Although we’re all hoping that this means an end to lockdowns and restrictions, we’re not there yet. It’s vitally important that we don’t throw away the good progress that we have made in Bedford Borough in reducing our rates of infection over the lockdown.
“Please stay safe – continue to limit your contact with others, and observe the tier 2 rules.”
How does the vaccine work?
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine introduces into the body a genetic material called mRNA (messenger RNA). This contains instructions for the body to make the ‘foreign’ protein of the coronavirus.
The body’s natural immune pathways are activated in response to these proteins and that response offers protection.
How has it been approved so quickly?
Due to the pandemic, the timeline for developing the vaccine has been greatly reduced, with trials overlapping, rather than taking place one after the other.
However, the safety checks have still been the same as they would for any new medicine.
‘Rolling reviews’ began several months ago and have been carried out by regulators, meaning they have been given access to the data as the scientists work.
Regulators were able to look at scientific data earlier than they traditionally would do, which has inevitably sped up the approval process.
At this morning’s briefing, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), was at great pains to point out how rigorously the vaccine had been tested, saying, “The safety of the public will always come first.”
"The safety of the public will always come first"
Dr June Raine, chief executive of British regulator the MHRA, says "no corners were cut" in the process of approving the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine for the UKhttps://t.co/zmGehLUn85 pic.twitter.com/q0uZtUTsVN
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) December 2, 2020
Who will get it first?
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that 10m doses of the newly approved vaccine will be available before the end of the year, even as early as next week.
NHS staff, care home residents and care home staff will be at the front of the queue.
“The scale of what is being attempted is huge,” said Professor Richard Wilding, OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Bedfordshire’s Cranfield School of Management.
“The vaccination will not instantly be available everywhere to everyone, but the Time to Volume will be helped with the additional approval of other vaccines, which already have support infrastructure in place and so are easier to manage.
“In addition to the vaccine itself, the other elements of vaccination centres need to be coordinated to meet the demands; syringes, needles, PPE, waste removal, for example.
“These multiple supply chains will need to be well-choreographed to enable people to receive the vaccination.”
How you can get the vaccine
Speaking to Sky News this morning, the health secretary said, “50 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.
“Also vaccination centres, which will be big centres where people can go to get vaccinated. They are being set up now.
“There will also be a community rollout, including GPs and pharmacists. Now, of course, because of the -70C storage conditions of this vaccine, they will be able to support this rollout where they have those facilities.
“But they’ll also be there should the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine be approved because that doesn’t have these cold storage requirements and so is operationally easier to roll out.”
Locally, Cllr Louise Jackson said, “We’re working with NHS colleagues on plans for the rollout of this vaccine and any others that might follow.”