It comes as the Vaccine Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, revealed that the Government’s target to vaccinate the 15m most vulnerable people in the UK with their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine was met on Feb 14.
The government hopes to maintain this momentum, announcing plans to vaccinate every adult in the UK by September 2021.
Boris Johnson told a press briefing on Feb 15: “If we can keep this pace up and supply steady – which I hope and believe we can – then we hope to offer a vaccination to everyone in the first nine priority groups, including everyone over 50, by the end of April.”
Following the announcement, the Government said people aged 65 to 69 can now have a Covid-19 vaccine in England if GPs have done all they can to reach those at higher risk.
Mr Johnson said all those aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions would also be contacted, as well as adult carers.
Additionally, on Feb 16 an extra 1.7 million people were added to the shielding list in England, after experts developed an algorithm which has identified more adults at serious risk of Covid-19.
More than 800,000 of the people newly added to the shielding list are between 19 and 69 years old and will now be prioritised for a vaccination, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, said many joining the shielding group will already have been offered a Covid-19 vaccine – but those who have not will be able to get their vaccines “as quickly as possible”.
As of Feb 16, total of 15,940,972 first doses have been administered in the UK, and 558,577 people have received a second dose so far.
In positive news for the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, the World Health Organisation recommended the jab for the over-65s, stating on Feb 10 that the benefits outweighed the risks.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam urged people not to let fears about new variants prevent them from having a coronavirus vaccine, insisting that the jabs being rolled out by the NHS protect against the variants spreading most widely in the UK.
“Please don’t delay if you’re called, take the advantage to protect yourself against the… immediate threat,” England’s deputy chief medical officer told a press conference.
Some 100 Oxford million jabs have been ordered by the Government, with 40 million due to be rolled out by March. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency also approved the Moderna vaccine for use on Jan 8, which will be delivered in the spring.
The Government announced it had ordered an additional 40 million doses of the Valneva jab for delivery in 2022. Large-scale manufacturing has already begun in Scotland, and if approved, it would deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year.
Who is receiving the vaccine first?
Prof Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, called the UK Covid-19 vaccine rollout “two sprints and a marathon”.
The first “sprint” was to vaccinate those in the top four JCVI priority groups, of which the Department for Health and Social Care said had accounted for 88 per cent of Covid-19 deaths so far.
Margaret Keenan, 91, was the first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry on Dec 8, and successfully received her second dose on Dec 29. While 82-year-old Brian Pinker was the first person in the UK to be given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at Oxford University Hospitals’ NHS Foundation Trust on Jan 4.
Following this, those in the over-70s age group and the clinically vulnerable, a total of 5.6 million people, were invited to receive the first dose of the vaccine, as well as NHS workers, care home residents and health and social care workers.
On Feb 14, the Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, revealed that the top four priority groups had been offered a vaccine, and 15 million of the most vulnerable people had now received their first dose.
There will now be another “sprint” to April, when the rest of the priority groups will be given the jab.
All those aged 65 and over (group five) will be contacted next, a total of 2.9 million people, as well as all those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that increase the risk of disease and mortality from COVID-19 (group six).
7.3 million people are in group six, including those with heart conditions, diabetes and severe mental health issues as well as unpaid carers for elderly and disabled, but controversially, asthma sufferers were taken off the priority list.
Additionally, from early to mid-March, the NHS will be reserving the vaccines needed to administer second doses to patients who have already received their first vaccine.
Once these groups have been vaccinated, it will be the turn of the over-60s (group seven), and then the over-55s (group eight) and the over-50s (group nine).
Ministers are said to be discussing plans to vaccinate millions of under-50s at work in order to accelerate the national vaccine roll-out from spring onwards.
Following this, there will be a “marathon” to autumn, when the rest of the country will receive it, approximately 21 million people.
Why is there a delay between the first and second jabs?
Regulators have said the key to success will be to administer two full doses between four to 12 weeks apart, in order to give as many people the initial dose of the vaccine as possible, which offers some protection from the virus.
Prof Whitty said that extending the gap between the first and second jabs would mean the number of people vaccinated can be doubled over three months, after being asked whether the longer gap could lead to an increase risk in an “escape mutant”.
“Our quite strong view is that protection is likely to be lot more than 50 per cent,” he added.
“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.”
A study found a single dose was 76 per cent effective in fending off infection between 22 days and 90 days post-injection, rising to 82.4 per cent after a second dose at that stage. Researchers involved in the trial said the findings support the decision made by the UK to extend the interval between initial doses and booster doses of the shot to 12 weeks.
However, scientists have said only half of those vaccinated could have immunity after a single dose and elderly people should wait until they are fully protected with a second dose before hugging relatives.
A new study has found that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provided a “very high” level of protection from Covid-19 after just 21 days, without the need for a second “top-up” vaccination.
The UEA study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, looked at data from Israel where the vaccine has been rolled out.
Scientists found the vaccine becomes 90 per cent effective after 21 days – supporting UK plans to delay the timing of a second jab.
While it is not yet known how long immunity lasts beyond 21 days without a second dose, researchers believe it is “unlikely” to majorly decline during the following nine weeks.
But scientists warned people’s risk of infection doubled in the first eight days after the Pfizer vaccine jab, citing people becoming less cautious as a possible cause.
How will I be invited to get the vaccine?
The NHS will contact you when you are eligible for the vaccine and you will be invited to make an appointment.
If you are registered to a GP, you will be contacted by your surgery either over the phone, by text, email or post, in order to book in to receive a vaccine at your local vaccination centre.
You can still register at a GP surgery if you are not already registered to one, and it is advised that you make sure that your contact details are up to date to ensure that there are no delays.
However, if you are over 70 and have not yet received the vaccine, the government urges you to contact your GP.
Three modes of delivery
In total, 250 active hospital sites, 89 vaccination centres, and around 1,200 local vaccination sites – including primary care networks, community pharmacy sites and mobile teams – have been set ip to ensure every at-risk person has easy access to a vaccination centre, regardless of where they live.
Mr Johnson has promised that vaccines would be available to people within 10 miles of their home. For a small number of highly rural areas, the vaccine will be brought to them via mobile teams.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine began to be rolled out from Jan 4, with 6 NHS Trusts in England initially administering the inoculation before GP-led services.
Easier to store, handle and more readily available than the Pfizer vaccine, the Government began distributing the Oxford jab to mass vaccination centres, including sports hall, stadiums and conference centres.
By the end of January, more than 200 community chemists will be able to give vaccines, according to NHS England.
Prof Whitty’s deputy, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, also previously suggested that people who cannot leave their homes may need to wait for the Oxford jab as it can be more easily split into smaller quantities.
Alongside the three modes of delivery, the Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi has said that there is potential that the vaccine could be administered in the form of a pill.
Receiving a vaccine jab via a pill could help alleviate supply issues that have hindered the rollout in some areas of the world including Europe.
Mr Zahawi told Times Radio that the Government is “making sure the UK will always have the capability and capacity to manufacture the variant vaccines that will deal with any variant virus.”
Sites across the country have been transformed into vaccine hubs and started administering vaccines from Jan 25.
Some of these venues include ExCel in London, Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester and Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey.
How will the storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine affect the programme?
The vaccine must be stored at -70C to be effective, meaning it can only be delivered to GPs with the facilities to keep it at that temperature.
It will be difficult to administer in care homes. Deputy chief medical officer professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “This is a complex product. It is not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in several times.”
It is understood the vaccine batches are being broken down into doses of 75, in order to give the vaccine to elderly residents and staff in homes with more than 50 beds to avoid wastage.
The Oxford vaccine does not need to be stored in such cold conditions – it can be kept at temperatures between 2C and 8C.
This means it is more mobile than the Pfizer jab and therefore more easily deployed into care homes of varying sizes and into private homes for individual doses.
Experts believe the Oxford jab will be easier to deploy beyond formal healthcare settings, in part because it does not need to be stored at such cold temperatures as the other approved vaccine.
Will people receive vaccines 24 hours a day?
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that 8am-8pm inoculations will continue for those in the over-80s age group, but as more people in other age groups begin to receive the vaccine, “it becomes much more convenient for people to go late at night and in the early hours”.
Mr Zahawi expected the scheme to be in operation in hospitals around London, and 50 vaccination centres, by February.
Additionally, three hospitals in Birmingham began offering 24-hour vaccinations for health and social staff from the night of Jan 20.
Offering vaccinations overnight will speed up the rollout, and allow the Government to reach their goal of vaccinating 32 million people – 60 per cent of the UK adult population by spring, which was announced on Jan 11.
What other problems does the vaccination programme face?
The EU has threatened to block exports of the Pfizer vaccine following a row with the vaccine company, AstraZeneca.
The EU has said that it will “take any action required to protect its citizens”, leading ministers to worry that the delivery of Pfizer vaccines to the UK will – at best – be delayed by extra paperwork.
This led the Government to say on Jan 31 that it can “absolutely guarantee” its programme of delivery of the Covid-19 jab, amid the row with the EU over vaccine supplies, with International trade secretary Liz Truss confirming that “contractual supplies won’t be disrupted.”
Two of the first NHS staff to get the jab suffered allergic reactions and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warned the vaccine should not be administered to people with a history of ‘significant’ allergic reactions.
However, Prof Stephen Powis said that this was common for new vaccines and the staff have recovered well.
What about the new variant of coronavirus? Will the vaccine still protect us?
The South African variant and the Brazilian variant have threatened to undermine the vaccine and testing gains of recent months.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is expecting some vaccine tweaks to be needed as it has already begun to look at how quickly an altered jab could be approved, and Matt Hancock has said he is “very worried”.
As of Feb 10, 141 cases of the South Africa Covid-19 variant have been identified in the UK. Due to some cases not being linked to travel, door-to-door testing will take place in some parts of England.
It was announced on Feb 7 that studies of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab have shown that it does not protect against mild and moderate infection of the South African variant.
However, vaccines against new coronavirus variants should be ready by October, the team behind the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab has said.
On Jan 25, Moderna Inc announced that its vaccine was effective against the Kent and South African variants. Deliveries of the vaccine will take place in the spring.
Britain is also on the brink of approving a fourth coronavirus vaccine, after a jab trialed in the UK was shown to be highly effective against the Kent variant in what the Health Secretary hailed as a “breakthrough”.
Sixty million doses of the Novavax jab have been secured by the UK, which Mr Zahawi was himself injected with as part of the trial, which was shown to be 89.3 per cent effective in preventing coronavirus in participants.
Professor Paul Heath, the Novavax Phase 3 trial chief investigator, said he believed that vaccines could be adapted “at pace” to target new variants of coronavirus after the Novavax jab was found to be effective against the Kent variant.
Crucially, it was shown to be highly effective in preventing infection from the Kent variant which Boris Johnson said on Jan 22 could be up to 30 per cent more deadly than the original.
Prof Neil Ferguson, who sits on Nervtag, the Government’s virus advisory committee, said the latest data showed up to 13 in 1000 people aged 60 who contract the variant strain could die, compared with 10 in 1000 who caught the original variant.
“It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty,” Prof Ferguson told ITV.
The professor said the data available on the new variant is patchy, but there is a “signal” that there is a “1.3-fold increased risk of death”.
However, most promisingly, on Jan 16, The Telegraph exclusively revealed that Britain would have the capacity to vaccinate the entire nation against new coronavirus strains within four months, once a new “super-factory” opens this year.
The government is currently looking to the future, and Boris Johnson has said that elderly and vulnerable people in the UK may have a coronavirus vaccine every year, similar to the roll-out of the annual flu jab.
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