First COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in the UK from next week

The MHRA has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, paving the way for vaccination of priority groups to start.

People living in care homes will be the first to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine. | GETTY IMAGES
People living in care homes will be the first to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine. | GETTY IMAGES

The DHSC said the vaccine would be made available across the UK 'from next week' as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published updated advice for groups to be prioritised for the vaccine, starting with care home residents.

The government has 40m doses of the jab on order, with 10m expected to be available before the end of the year. The first 800,000 doses are due to arrive in the UK in the coming days.

Rigorous assessment

As the first regulator in the world to approve any COVID-19 vaccine, the MHRA emphasised no corners had been cut in its assessment.

Its rolling review of the vaccine began in October 2020, with the MHRA assessing new data as it became available in order to speed up the normal process of approval.

MHRA Chief Executive, Dr June Raine said: 'We have carried out a rigorous scientific assessment of all the available evidence of quality, safety and effectiveness. The public’s safety has always been at the forefront of our minds – safety is our watchword.

'I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against COVID-19 – a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way - and in helping to save lives.'

Cold storage

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was shown to be 95% effective at preventing illness from COVID-19 in final results from its phase 3 trial, which also showed it to have a similar efficacy profile across all age ranges, including older people, and ethnic groups.

People vaccinated with the jab require two doses, three weeks apart. However, using the vaccine poses a logistical challenge for the NHS. It needs to be kept at a temperature of -70C and it only has an effective life of five days when moved to a fridge with a temperature between 2 and 8C.

Vaccination programme

GP practices have been told they will be given 10 days' notice of vaccine delivery, meaning the earliest they could begin vaccination is 12 December.

NHS England also plans to provide vaccinations at hospital sites and mass vaccination centres, which could potentially be up and running sooner.

Latest guidance from Public Health England reveals that each pack of the jab that vaccination sites receive will contain 195 vials with 5 doses per vial.

The other vaccine likely to be used in the early stages of the vaccination programme is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has also been submitted to the MHRA for approval. The UK has 100m doses of the vaccine on order, with 4m likely to be available before the end of the year.

Interim phase 3 trial data showed that jab to be 70% effective overall, although a subset of the trial which received a half dose of vaccine first, followed by a standard second dose increased efficacy to 90%. A further trial plans to investigate this finding further.

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