First lorries loaded with doses leave Belgium - but fears the NHS will leapfrog care homes for jab as Boris warns there are 'logistical challenges' in getting it to elderly and their carers
Lorries loaded with the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine are already on their way to Britain after the breakthrough jab sealed approval from the UK's medical regulator — amid confusion about who will be first to be inoculated.
Thousands of doses of the vaccine were shipped from Pfizer's factories in Belgium this morning within hours of it being given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), making Britain the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised Covid-19 jab.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the announcement this morning, claiming an end to the pandemic was now 'in sight', while Boris Johnson declared it would 'allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again'.
Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer's vaccine — which requires people getting two doses 21 days apart — will be made available 'from next week'. The UK has ordered 40million doses of Pfizer's vaccine in total, with 10million due by the end of 2020 and the rest next year.
But there is growing confusion about which groups will get access to the first doses. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published its Covid-19 priority list today, advising that care home residents and the staff who treat them should be the first groups to be inoculated.
However, officials warned they could not guarantee care homes would get the vaccine before anyone else, admitting 'whether or not that is actually doable depends on deployment and implementation'. Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine has been shown to block 95 per cent of Covid-19 infections in late-stage trials, with equal efficacy among younger volunteers and those over 65 who are most at risk from Covid.
But transporting and storing the vaccine in care homes poses logistical challenges because it must be stored and transported at -70C. To keep doses of the jab at this ultra-low temperature, they needs to be packaged with dry ice and placed in a special transport box the size of a suitcase.
These containers can prevent the vaccines from spoiling for 10 days if they remain unopened. Once the batches arrive at vaccination hubs, they can be stored in standard medical fridges at between 2C and 8C for up to five days, or they can be kept in their shipping boxes for up to 30 days if the containers are topped up with dry ice at least once a week.
Fifty NHS hospitals in England are already equipped with super-cold freezers that can keep the vaccine at -70C, meaning healthcare staff could be inoculated first. However, makers of the jab have taken issue with claims the jab is difficult to transport, claiming that it can be kept at between 2C and 8C for six hours in transit without going off.
The MHRA moved with unprecedented speed to approve the jab within just a week of receiving the final data from Pfizer's phase three trials. The watchdog had been conducting a 'rolling review' of the vaccine, scrutinising data from its studies in real-time. MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine insisted that despite the rapid approval, the vaccine had been assessed 'with meticulous care' and 'no corners had been cut'.
The announcement comes on the day England emerged from its second national lockdown.
In other vaccine developments on the back of Pfizer's approval:
- Teachers, soldiers, and bus drivers could be first in line for a Covid vaccine once all over-50s and 'at-risk' Britons are protected, JCVI guidance suggests;
- Matt Hancock claims Brexit helped Britain become first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine 'because European regulators were moving too slowly';
- The Health Secretary says he'll take the Covid vaccine live on TV to show it's safe in attempt to quell any anxiety;
- Britain may still need a circuit breaker lockdown in January or February - despite roll-out of Pfizer's 95 per cent effective jab beginning next week, top scientist warns;
- The MHRA was so keen to approve Pfizer's Covid vaccine that it responded to emails within ten minutes, according to Pfizer's vice president for medical and scientific affairs;
- Britons given Pfizer's Covid vaccine will get partial immunity within 12 days of the first dose, MHRA regulators believe.