I’m so pleased that, as we come to the end of this terrible year, I can provide you with some fantastic news and further details, following the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorising the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine for mass rollout across the UK. This follows authorisation earlier this month for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which started to be rolled out earlier this month.
Currently, the UK has rolled out more than 800,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine; that’s more than all EU countries combined. We are currently third behind only the US and China, with Israel a close 4th. Whilst this is a fantastic acheivement, we will continue to accelarate this rollout, which will be helped massively by the approval of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, of which the UK has so far ordered 100 million doses, enough to vaccinate 50 million people.
The Government yesterday accepted the MHRA’s recommendation, which followed rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive this vaccine.
The NHS has a clear vaccine delivery plan and decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes. The NHS will now begin putting their extensive preparations into action to roll out the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, and vaccination centres will now start inviting patients to receive the jab at regional locations.
Crucially, the Oxford vaccine is easier to store and distribute, as it can be stored at a normal fridge temperature, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at –70C. We also have more confidence about rapid supply of this vaccine as it is UK-made.
Throughout this global pandemic we have always been guided by the latest scientific advice. The JCVI has advised the priority should be to give as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible. Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first. The second dose completes the course and is important for longer term protection.
With 2 vaccines now approved, we will be able to vaccinate a greater number of people who are at highest risk, protecting them from the disease and reducing mortality and hospitalisation. The JCVI’s independent advice is this approach will maximise the benefits of both vaccines. Ensuring the more at-risk people are able to get meaningful protection from a vaccine in the coming weeks and months, reducing deaths and starting to ease pressure on our NHS.
To aid the success of the vaccination programme, it is vital everyone continues to play their part, abides by the restrictions in their area and remembers hands, face, space so we can slow the spread of this virus and protect those around us.
Let’s hope that, with the help of these vaccines, we can look towards 2021 and a return to normality in a brighter, better year than the incredibly difficult one we have had to get through together.