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”. If approved, up to 60 million doses could be delivered to the UK by the end of this year.
The news comes as Johnson & Johnson announced their single dose vaccine was 66 per cent effective in preventing moderate to severe Covid-19.
Brtiain has ordered 30 million doses, and Johnson & Johnson said they will send final results to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) next week, which will determine whether to approve the jab.
In more promising news, Moderna Inc said 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.
Additionally, large-scale manufacturing of a coronavirus vaccine candidate from French biotech company Valneva has begun in Scotland.
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has pledged to invite all adults to receive their first dose of the vaccine by early autumn, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying the jab will be offered to the adult population by September.
In addition to this, the chief executive of AstraZenena, Pascal Soriot, has said that the UK’s ‘head start’ in vaccinations means that nearly everyone over 50 will receive their first dose of the vaccine by March.
The UK has set a target of vaccinating 32 million people – 60 per cent of the UK adult population – by spring.
Nadhim Zahawi, the UK’s vaccine minister, said he expected 24 hour vaccination centres to be in operation in hospitals around London, and 50 vaccination centres, by February.
Three hospitals in Birmingham started offering 24 hour vaccinations for health and social staff from Jan 20.
What we know about the Pfizer vaccine
The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out across the UK, with the most vulnerable and care workers being vaccinated first.
However, deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine would be cut by between 15 and 20 per cent due to delays in shipments because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant, sources have said.
The vaccine was first administered to a 90-year-old grandmother from Coventry, Margaret Keenan, marking the start of a historic mass vaccination programme.
The rollout has been hindered by safety guidance, which says every patient receiving the Pfizer jab must be monitored for 15 minutes after receiving the jab.
Pfizer and German firm BioNTech said their vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 after two doses and has passed its safety checks. 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.
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. More people will have been protected than would have been otherwise,” he told a No 10 news conference.
“Our quite strong view is that protection is likely to be a lot more than 50 per cent.”
However, on Jan 20 the UK’s chief scientific adviser said the UK will have to look “very carefully” at the effectiveness of a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, after reports from Israel suggested the protection it provides may be much lower than shown in trials.
Responding to Israel’s claims that efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as low as 33 per cent, Sir Patrick Vallance said studies showed that from day 10 after vaccination to 21 days and beyond, it was “much more like 89 per cent”.
Meanwhile, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI, said they are 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.
He told BBC Breakfast on Jan 29: “The key thing at the moment from the JCVI perspective is to try and get the same vaccine for the second dose as the first dose.
“We are recommending a second dose because that’s important for long-term protection and it will be interesting to see on the supply side whether we can deliver that.
“If we can’t deliver that, JCVI advice is that it’s better to have a second dose of a different vaccine than no second dose at all, and there’s no theoretical reason why you can’t mix vaccines, just the studies are ongoing at the moment.”
What’s the latest on Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine?
The Oxford vaccine was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on Dec 30 and started to be rolled out from Jan 4.
Brian Pinker, 82, was the first person to be administered with the vaccine, at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s Churchill Hospital.
He said: “I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford”.
The Oxford vaccine, which is easier to store and handle than the Pfizer jab and costs less, is likely to make it easier to reach people living in more rural areas.
Results from phase three of the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial, which had over 11,500 volunteers from the UK and Brazil, show the vaccine is 70.4 per cent effective on average.
Professor Calum Semple has described the Oxford vaccine as a “game changer”.
The respiratory disease expert and member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said: “It can be stored at a more convenient temperature and it can therefore be moved around the country a lot more easily.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine has now been approved for adults in the EU. 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”.
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. The vaccine will be delivered to the country in the spring.
The Government has requested another 10 million doses of the vaccine, taking its order to 17 million, enough for 8.5 million people to receive the two doses required.
The vaccine works by injecting a small part of the Covid-19 virus’ genetic code, which triggers an immune response and creates antibodies in the human body to fight the virus.
Moderna has reported that the vaccine’s efficacy was 94.1 per cent, while its efficacy against severe Covid-19 was nearly 95 per cent. Moderna is also testing its jab against the faster-spreading version of the disease.
Unlike the Pfizer jab, the Moderna vaccine can be kept for six months at -20C, the temperature of a conventional freezer, and can be stored for up to 30 days in a standard fridge – but a dose is three times larger than Pfizer’s.
The deployment of the vaccine will be similar to the rollout of the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. 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. Spike proteins from these cells were then assembled into nanoparticles which, while they look like coronavirus, cannot replicate or cause Covid-19.
These nanoparticles are then injected into the body via the vaccine where the immune system mounts an antibody response. 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. This is an incredible achievement that will ensure we can protect individuals in the UK and the rest of the world from this virus.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is “good news” that the experimental coronavirus vaccine from Novavax appears to offer strong protection in late-stage UK and South Africa studies.
When can I get the Valneva vaccine?
Large-scale manufacturing of a coronavirus vaccine candidate from French biotech company Valneva has begun in Scotland.
If approved, it would deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year.
Valneva’s offering falls into a category of jabs known as inactivated whole virus vaccines.
These vaccines contain viruses whose genetic material has been destroyed by heat, chemicals or radiation so they cannot infect cells and replicate but can still trigger an immune response.
This technology is well-established and has been used in seasonal influenza, hepatitis A, polio and rabies vaccines.
Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is studded with spike proteins which it uses to enter human cells.
While the genetic material virus in the Valneva vaccine candidate has been destroyed, the inactivation process preserves the structure of the spike protein, which helps the body identify the substance as a “foreign invader” and induces an immune response.
So later, when a vaccinated person comes into contact with the virus, the immune system is primed for attack.
Like the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, the Valneva vaccine conform with the standard cold chain requirements, which is between 2C and 8C.
The Valneva candidate vaccine is being tested on 150 volunteers at testing sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Southampton.
These tests will show whether the vaccine produces a safe and effective immune response against Covid-19.
If successful, larger tests will be planned for April 2021, with more than 4,000 UK volunteers taking two doses.
These trials will include those aged 18-65 as well as over-65s.
What’s happening with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Johnson & Johnson, which owns the pharmaceutical firm Janssen, announced on Jan 29 that its single-dose vaccine was effective in preventing COVID-19.
Clinical data from phase 3 trials show the vaccine is 66 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe Covid-19 but offers high protection against people needing to go to hospital.
In the trial of nearly 44,000 volunteers, the level of protection against moderate and severe COVID-19 was 66 per cent in Latin America and 57 per cent in South Africa, where a particularly worrying variant of the novel coronavirus is circulating.
However, J & J said the jab was 85 per cent effective in preventing severe disease “and demonstrated complete protection against Covid-19 related hospitalisation and death as of day 28”.
Those results compare to the high bar set by the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE and Moderna vaccines, which were around 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19. 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.
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. Interim data showed it is 65.3 per cent effective, Indonesia’s food and drugs authority said.
On Dec 31, China approved the Sinopharm vaccine, its first approved shot for general public use. 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?
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.
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. For those in highly rural areas, the vaccine will be brought to them via mobile teams.
32 new mass vaccination centres will open from Jan 25 in England, joining the 17 centres already operating across the country.
The vaccination centres already in operation include:
- Olympic Office Centre in Wembley, North London
- St Helens Rugby Ground, Merseyside
- Blackburn Cathedral, Lancashire
- Norwich Food Court, Norfolk
- Bournemouth International Centre, Dorset
- Taunton Racecourse, Somerset
- Salt Hill Activity Centre, Berkshire
- The Lodge in Wickford, Essex
- Princess Royal Sports Arena, Boston, Lincolnshire
- The Park-and-Ride at Askham Bar, York
On Jan 18, The Telegraph revealed that all care home residents and staff in England might be offered vaccinations by the week commencing Jan 25, ahead of the initial schedule. 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.
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. The South Africa variant was found in Britain at the end of December.
Cambridge microbiology professor Ravi Gupta said the Brazilian variant, discovered in mid-January, has three key mutations that “largely mirror” some of those in the hyper-infectious South African variant “hence the concern”.
“Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible,” he added.
Most encouragingly, though, recent lab results suggest the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is likely to protect against the more infectious variant of Covid-19. 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. We probably will need to make seasonal vaccine variants because there may well be mutations in the virus, as well as vaccines for other diseases. You never know what’s coming next.”
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. Scientists would continue to monitor it.
How long does the Covid vaccine last?
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicine Expert Working Group, said that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine will give people immunity “seven days after the second dose” of the vaccine, which requires two doses taken 21 days apart to reach high levels immunity.
Prof Pirmohamed said: “Partial immunity does occur after the first dose and we can see some protection occurring after day 12 of the first dose.”
Immunologist Professor Uğur Şahin, the founder of BioNTech, admitted that he expects the antibody response in patients “will decline over time”, but mooted the idea of combining vaccines for people who no longer had an immune response.
It is still not clear for how long the Pfizer vaccine will provide immunity against Covid-19, due to how quickly it was developed. 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.
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.
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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