PM says scientists have performed 'biological jiu jitsu' to create Covid vaccine

2 December 2020, 17:23 | Updated: 3 December 2020, 11:21

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has praised scientists for performing "biological jiu jitsu" to turn the virus on itself and create the Covid vaccine.

During a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said the "searchlights of science" had picked out the "invisible enemy" as he welcomed the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Despite warning against over-optimism, he said it was now "sure and certain" that life could start returning to normal in 2021.

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The PM said the NHS would now embark on the the "biggest programme of mass vaccination in the history of the UK" from next week.

But Mr Johnson acknowledged there were "immense logistical challenges" in distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and said it will "inevitably take some months before all the most vulnerable are protected - long, cold months."

He added: "So it's all the more vital that as we celebrate this scientific achievement we are not carried away with over-optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over."

Mr Johnson said a combination of community testing, vaccines and social distancing measures were still necessary, adding: "As we do all this we are no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year, in the spring, but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed and together reclaim our lives and all the things about our lives that we love.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the bulk of vaccinations will take place in "January through to March or April for the at-risk population".

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He said the vaccine rollout will start at 50 "hospital hubs" in England next week.

Mr Stevens said: "Supplies from the manufacturer are phased so the initial tranche in December is going to enable us to get started but the bulk of this vaccination programme, either through this vaccine, or hopefully others as well that will join it, will take place in the period January through to March or April for the at-risk population.

"The majority of the early vaccinations will, as I say, be for the over-80s and for care home residents and since you need two jabs with an initial injection and then a booster given to you around 21 days apart that means that we've got to reserve the second dose for the people who are getting the first dose in December to make sure that that second dose is available for them."

He added: "The vaccine that has been approved for the NHS to deploy today, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, has been independently shown to be medically safe, but it is logistically complicated.

"We have to move it around the country in a carefully controlled way initially at minus 70 degrees centigrade, or thereabouts, and there are a limited number of further movements that we are allowed by the regulator to make.

"It also comes in packs of 975 people's doses so you can't at this point just distribute it to every individual GP surgery or pharmacy as we normally would for many of the other vaccines available on the NHS.

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"So the phasing of delivery, the way we will do it, is that next week around 50 hospital hubs across England will start offering the vaccine to the over-80s and to care home staff and others identified by the JCVI typically they may be people who were already down to come into hospital next week for an outpatient appointment.

"So if you are going to be one of those people next week or in the weeks that follow the hospital will get in touch with you, you don't need to do anything about it yourself."

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: "We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take.

"It is going to take months, not weeks.

"And, for now, the other measures, the tier measures, the social distancing have to stay in place.

"If we relax too soon, if we just, kind of, go 'oh, the vaccine's here, let's abandon caution', all you are going to do is create a tidal wave of infections.

"And this vaccine has then got to work in a head wind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder."