Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine approved for UK use and will roll out next week

2 December 2020, 07:19 | Updated: 2 December 2020, 15:34

By Asher McShane

The Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved for use in the UK, paving the way for mass vaccination to start as early as next week.

Officials said the vaccine will be made available "from next week" and hailed the news which makes the UK the first country in the world to have a clinically approved Covid-19 vaccine.

The jab has been shown in studies to be 95% effective and works in all age groups but needs to be stored at minus 70C.

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The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20m people.

In line with the recommendations of the independent Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the vaccine will be rolled out to the priority groups including care home residents and staff, people over 80 and health and care workers, then to the rest of the population in order of age and risk, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the approval of the jab by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and said Covid-19 vaccines will allow Britons to "reclaim our lives".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that delivery of the vaccine would be according to "clinical prioritisation and operational necessity because of the need to hold the vaccine at -70C, it makes this vaccine particularly challenging to deploy."

The Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved
The Pfizer/BioNTech has been approved. Picture: PA

Fifty hospitals in England are waiting to receive the vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC today.

The Welsh government said the rollout of the vaccine would start 'within days'.

The government and the MHRA announced the news this morning.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for use. This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.

NHS England will outline further details on deployment shortly, but the plans will include:

- Hospital hubs for NHS and care staff and older patients to get vaccinated

- Local community services with local teams and GPs already signing up to take part in the programme

- Vaccination centres across the country, ensuring people can access a vaccine regardless of where they live

"The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will shortly also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

"The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.

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"To aid the success of the vaccination programme it is vital everyone continues to play their part and abide by the necessary restrictions in their area so we can further suppress the virus and allow the NHS to do its work without being overwhelmed.

"Further details will be set out shortly."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: "Help is on its way. The MHRA has formally authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19.

"The NHS stands ready to start vaccinating early next week.

"The UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply."

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the vaccination programme would be the "largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country's history".

In a statement, he said: "This is an important next step in our response to the coronavirus pandemic and hospitals will shortly kick off the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country's history.

"The NHS has a proven track record of delivering large-scale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to BCG and, once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in England's hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a programme that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: "Thank you to all those involved in this wonderful news - from the brilliant scientists to the trial volunteers. We must now ensure vaccines are rolled out safely but swiftly across the country."

Sadiq Khan posted online: "On behalf of all Londoners, I want to thank the scientists, volunteers & all involved in the development of this vaccine - which has met strict standards of safety, quality & effectiveness to be approved.

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Later UK medical experts revealed the priority of who will get the vaccine first

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, of the Commission on Human Medicines advisory panel, said approval of the vaccine was a "historic moment".

He told a Government press conference: "We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic and I think this is a historic moment.

"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.

"This will help to save lives."

Dr June Raine, of the MHRA medicines regulator, stressed the vaccine met "rigorous high standards".

"The public's safety has always been at the forefront of our minds," she said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's Wei Shen Lim said the body had advised on how the jab might by used in the "first phase" of the programme but had not yet given advice about future phases.