The Government has said it can “absolutely guarantee” it’s programme of delivery of the Covid-19 jab, as the Government races to vaccinate the top four priority groups by Feb 15 amid a row with the EU over vaccine supplies.
International trade secretary Liz Truss made the comments on Jan 31 when asked if she could guarantee that everyone who has had the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine will get their second dose.
Ms Truss said: “The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) has spoken to Ursula von der Leyen. She has been very clear that those contractual supplies won’t be disrupted.
“That’s a very important assurance and, of course, we also have our UK-produced vaccines as well, and if you look at our vaccines pipeline, 367 million doses, we have a significant supply to be able to vaccinate the UK population.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), also said he is “confident” of the UK’s vaccine supply, whilst advising people should have a second dose of another vaccine, rather than no second dose, if supply issues make it impossible to have two doses of the same medicine.
A fourth Covid-19 vaccine, Novavax, could be approved for use in the UK within weeks as late-stage trials have suggested it was 89 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus, and highly effective against the highly contagious and more deadly Kent variant of the virus.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said the news was “very, very exciting”.
The jab only has 50 per cent efficacy after one dose, so scientists warned elderly people to wait until they were fully protected with a second dose before hugging relatives. How does the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine work
Pfizer’s jab relies on a live piece of genetic code which must be kept at -70C, making it less convenient and more expensive than Oxford’s traditional vaccine.
Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE had produced over 70 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine by the end of 2020. Overall, the UK has ordered 40 million doses.
BioNTech said on Jan 11 the companies were raising the 2021 delivery target for their Covid-19 vaccine to 2 billion doses, up from 1.3 billion, as they add new production lines and as more doses can be extracted per vial.
Though, deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK will be cut by between 15 and 20 per cent from Jan 25, due to delays in shipments because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant, sources said.
Why is there a delay between the first and second Pfizer jabs?
The decision to widen the gap between the doses has faced criticism from GPs and scientists, after some elderly and vulnerable people were told they would have to wait longer for their second jabs.
Regulators had previously said that two doses should be administered between four and 12 weeks apart.
However, Professor Chris Whitty said that extending the gap between the first and second jabs would mean the number of people vaccinated could be doubled over three months.
“If over that period there is more than 50 per cent protection, then you have actually won.
This news follows a draft recommendation from Germany’s vaccine authorities which called for its use to be restricted to those aged between 18 and 64.
Public Health England has defended the Oxford vaccine as safe and effective for older people, rejecting Germany’s claim.
Boris Johnson also jumped in on Thursday to highlight that the evidence shows the jab “provides a good immune response across all age groups”.
READ MORE: Oxford vaccine – how effective is it and is it different to the Pfizer vaccine?
What is the latest on the Moderna vaccine?
US biotechnology firm Moderna has said lab studies showed its Covid-19 vaccine would remain protective against variants of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Moderna Inc said that “the study showed no significant impact” on the level of neutralizing antibodies elicited against the UK variant.
A six-fold reduction in antibody levels was observed on the South African variant. However, these levels are thought to remain above what is required for protection against Covid-19.
The vaccine approved for use in the UK by the MHRA on Jan 8, making it the third Covid-19 vaccine to be approved for use and the second mRNA vaccine besides the Pfizer jab.
As with the Pfizer vaccine, anyone with a previous history of allergic reactions to the ingredients of the vaccine should not receive it, but those with any other allergies such as a food allergy can have the jab.
The vaccine has also been authorised for use in the United States and the EU.
What is the Novavax vaccine?
An experimental Covid-19 vaccine appears to offer strong protection in late-stage UK and South Africa studies, manufacturer Novavax said on Jan 28.
The UK has secured access to 60 million doses of the vaccine, called NVX-CoV2373, but it will need to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
The protein-based vaccine candidate was shown to be 89.3% effective at preventing coronavirus in participants in its Phase 3 clinical trial in the UK, which enrolled more than 15,000 people between 18-84, of which 27% were older than 65, Novavax said.
The Novavax vaccine works like other vaccines by teaching the immune system to make antibodies to the coronavirus spike protein, and is given in two doses.
Researchers inserted a modified gene into a virus, called a baculovirus, and allowed it to infect insect cells.
If the body encounters coronavirus in the future, the body is primed to fend it off.
“NVX-CoV2373 is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against Covid-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants,” said Stanley Erck, the biotechnology firm’s president and chief executive.
The trial was carried out in conjunction with the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, with its chairman Clive Dix saying in a statement: “These are spectacular results, and we are very pleased to have helped Novavax with the development of this vaccine.
“The efficacy shown against the emerging variants is also extremely encouraging.
However, those trials were conducted mainly in the United States and before the spread of new more infectious variants.
Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, J&J’s does not require a second shot weeks after the first or need to be kept frozen, making it a strong candidate for use in parts of the world with weak transportation infrastructure and insufficient cold storage facilities.
The vaccine uses a common cold virus known as adenovirus type 26 to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells in the body and trigger an immune response.
The UK has already pre-ordered 30 million doses of this vaccine but has the option to reserve a further 22 million, which will assist the Government in its aim to vaccinate the four most vulnerable groups of citizens by mid-February.
A COVID-19 vaccination record card at a drive through vaccination centre Credit: MOLLY DARLINGTON/ REUTERS
What do we know about China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines?
Sinovac is one of four Chinese vaccines in last-stage human trials, a higher number than any other nation in the world.
Some are concerned about the quality of the vaccines and on Nov 9, Sinovac was forced to suspend trials of its vaccine in Brazil after a participant died.
Clinical trials in Brazil reported on Jan 13 that Sinovac was 50.4 per cent effective, only slightly above the World Health Organisation’s minimum standard of 50 per cent.
On Jan 11 Indonesia became the first country outside China to grant emergency approval to Sinovac’s vaccine, amid surging infections and deaths, followed two days later by Turkey.
Sinopharm, developed by Beijing Biological Products Institute, says its vaccine is 79 percent effective against the novel coronavirus.
What’s happening with the Sanofi/GSK vaccine?
Drug companies Sanofi and GSK have announced a delay in their Covid-19 vaccine programme after trials showed an “insufficient response” in the over-50s.
The UK had ordered 60 million doses of the vaccine. Rollout is now not expected before the last-quarter of 2021.
Who will get the vaccine first?
Pfizer vaccine roll-out
Key workers, such as teachers, will also be prioritised in the second phase, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has also suggested that critical workers will be in the “highest category of phase two”.
When asked how the Government will identify which key workers need the vaccine more urgently, the Health Secretary shared that 99 per cent of deaths are in the top nine groups of the JCVI guidelines. After that, the goal is to reduce transmission and get back to normal as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister confirmed on Jan 27 that schools may reopen on March 8 depending on the success of the vaccine rollout.
READ MORE: Covid could come back stronger if rich nations monopolise vaccines
What is the vaccination programme’s progress so far?
The UK’s Covid-19 vaccine delivery plan was released in January, setting out the Government’s plans for tens of millions of people to be immunised by the spring.
Everyone in England will be within 10 miles of a vaccination site by the end of January, the Health Secretary pledged, and all adults would be offered a vaccine by the autumn.
400,000 residents have already received their jab after the Prime Minister emphasised they were the “absolute priority”.
However, GPs that are leading the rollout effort have been forced to “pause” to allow those in other areas to catch up and on Jan 13, Boris Johnson was forced to “accelerate” after it emerged that, under the current plan, the programme will not significantly ramp up again until March.
READ MORE: Tracking UK Covid vaccinations: Are we on target to end lockdown?
Will the jab protect us from the new variants?
On Dec 14, the Health Secretary announced a new strain of coronavirus had been identified in England, thought to be behind a surge in cases, especially in South East England and London. He said it is “highly unlikely” it will cause a more serious disease or compromise the vaccine.
The chief executive of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, said the German pharmaceutical company is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the UK variant, but further studies are needed to be completely sure.
Moderna Inc confirmed on Jan 25 that their vaccine produces virus-neutralizing antibodies in laboratory tests against new coronavirus variants found in the UK and South Africa. The vaccine was approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on Jan 8 and will be delivered to the UK in the spring.
Further new strains have also been located in South Africa and Brazil.
These promising results stem from a trial carried out by the U.S. drugmaker on Jan 8, which concluded the jab was effective against one key mutation, called N501Y, found in both of the highly transmissible new variants in Britain and South Africa.
The most recent study was carried out on a synthetic virus with 10 mutations that are characteristic of the variant known as B117 identified in Britain, however, it is yet to be peer reviewed.
Sir Patrick Vallance said on Jan 22 that there is “increasing confidence” that the UK variant will be susceptible to the vaccine.
The chief scientific advisor told a Downing Street press conference: “There’s increasing evidence from laboratory studies that the variant in the UK will be susceptible to the vaccines.
“There’s increasing confidence coupled with a very important clinical observation that individuals who have been infected previously and have generated antibodies appear to be equally protected against original virus and new variant.”
Then, on Jan 16, The Telegraph exclusively reported that Britain would have the capacity to vaccinate the entire nation against new coronavirus strains within four months after a “super-factory” opens later this year.
The Oxfordshire-based facility, which is worth £158m, will produce 70m doses of an emergency vaccine in the UK, Dr Matthew Duchars, chief executive of the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC), shared.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr Duchars revealed: “New Covid variants are absolutely part of the thinking.
You never know what’s coming next.”
How the Covid-19 vaccines compare
How do vaccines work and how are they made?
A vaccine stimulates your body’s immune system to produce antibodies and fight off a disease, and are determined to be effective or not by comparing infection levels in a vaccinated group of people and a control group.
Here’s the journey a vaccine takes, from initial development to approval:
- Before clinical testing: Scientists test the vaccine on cells and then give the virus to animals. If it produces an immune response it can move to the next stage.
- Phase 1 testing: The vaccine is tested on a small number of people. Scientists work out the dosage and if the jab works on humans.
- Phase 2: Testing on hundreds of participants, split into groups. Sometimes, for speed, phases 1 and 2 combine.
- Phase 3: The vaccine is given to thousands of people and runs alongside a placebo, simulating mass adoption. The larger number of participants helps find rare potential side effects.
- Approval: If the vaccine passes through these stages, it can be approved by national and international regulators and distributed.
A vaccine normally takes up to 10 years to develop from scratch; Pfizer’s was created in just 10 months.
But the MHRA has been clear that “no corners were cut” in assessing the safety of the jab, saying experts worked “round the clock”.
It is “highly likely” people will be vaccinated against Covid annually, as with the flu, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
What happens once you’ve had the Pfizer/BioNTech jab?
Will I be able to travel overseas once vaccinated?
The Department for Transport is considering the use of “vaccine stamps” as proof of vaccination in order to prevent hold-ups at borders should travel pick up in 2021, providing a boost to the aviation industry.
Thousands of Britons who have received their coronavirus vaccine are set to be offered a health passport as part of a government-funded trial taking place from Jan 2021.
The passport, created by biometrics firm iProov and cybersecurity firm Mvine, will be issued in the form of a free app allowing users to digitally prove if they have received the vaccine.
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