On a really positive note, this week sees the start of the rollout of the first batches of a COVID-19 vaccine. As expected, the regulator of medicines in the UK, the MHRA, approved the usage of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
This is ahead of approval across Europe and the United States. The UK government has placed orders for around 40 million doses (enough to fully vaccinate 20 million people), although these will arrive in phases, with the first batch already distributed to vaccination centres. At the time of writing, the MHRA has yet to approve any other vaccine, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, although this may well change in the coming days and weeks.
For a little more detail on the vaccine, here’s a good synopsis from New Scientist.
A few things are worth noting
- Safety concerns are minimal, with side effects tending to be mild and only occurring in a small number of patients – headache, fatigue etc. Of course, there is no way of knowing any potential longer term side effects at this point in time.
- The vaccine requires two doses, 3-6 weeks apart. The second dose is vital in affording the protection demonstrated in the trials.
- The vaccine appears to remain extremely effective in the elderly, at least up to the age of 85. This is very welcome, given the increased seriousness of disease in this age group, and the fact that many vaccines are generally known to produce a reduced immune response in the elderly.
- The vaccine provides significant practical and logistical problems, given the requirement for extremely low temperature storage as low as -80 degrees C. Most vaccines are designed to be stored in vaccine refrigerators that run at similar temperatures to household fridges. This requires the Pfizer vaccine to be administered in centralised locations that have these facilities, so travel will be needed.
- Under 16’s are not eligible, at least initially.
Who will be offered the vaccine?
This will depend on prioritised categories as follows:
- Residents in a care home for older adults. Staff working in care homes for older adults
- All those 80 years of age and over. Frontline health and social care workers.
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over. Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)
- All those 65 years of age and over
- Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group ( i.e. with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality)
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
There has been some confusion as to how patients in care homes, for instance, are expected to travel to vaccination centres. We await clarification on these plans. It is also worth noting that if you are in a vulnerable group and have been previously advised to ‘shield’, then you will be added to the priority list in category 4, regardless of your age.
What do I need to do?
From the information we have, you do not need to do anything. The process of rolling out the vaccine is managed centrally by the government and PHE. They will contact eligible patients in due course and offer an appointment at a vaccination hub.
Dr Simon Gillson
Dr Karl Braine