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Coronavirus vaccines WILL start to roll out next month, Matt Hancock confirms

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Coronavirus vaccines will start to roll out next month if one is approved by the British drug regulator, Matt Hancock confirmed today. 

The Health Secretary said in a TV briefing that the Government has officially asked the regulator, the MHRA, to consider licensing the vaccine made by pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech.

A late-stage study this week confirmed that the jab was 95 per cent effective in clinical trials and appears to protect people of all ages from coronavirus.

The £15-a-dose jab is currently the odds-on favourite to be approved first by the MHRA, although candidates from Moderna and Oxford University are close behind.

It comes as Britain today confirmed another 20,252 positive coronavirus test results and 511 more people have died. While cases are down – a drop of 26 per cent from the 27,301 recorded last Friday – deaths are continuing to rise, with today’s 511 a 36 per cent increase from 376 this time last week.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy medical officer for England, said today that the UK is ‘waiting’ for the watchdog’s authorisation to use the vaccine and said it would ‘happen at the speed of science’. 

Leaked NHS plans today revealed that even those in the lowest risk group – healthy adults under the age of 55 – may be able to start getting vaccinated in just two months’ time if everything goes to plan.  

The files say all pencilled-in dates for vaccines are dependent on the arrival of supplies – with up to seven million doses expected next month – and are based on NHS proposals to create huge GP-run facilities to deliver the shots. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock held a TV briefing today to announce that the Government has officially asked the drugs regulator the MHRA to consider whether Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine is suitable to use on the public

Mr Hancock said: ‘I can confirm that the government has formally asked the MHRA to assess the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for its suitability.

‘If a vaccine is approved, it will of course be available across the UK, from our NHS, free at the point of delivery according to need not ability to pay.’

The announcement follows the news earlier today that Pfizer had asked the regulator in the US – the FDA – to do the same thing there.

It released a report earlier this week confirming that it had finished collecting the required amount of safety data and that testing showed its vaccine may protect up to 95 per cent of people from getting Covid-19. 

Although Pfizer’s is currently the front of queue it may not be approved, or may take longer to get through the process that one that comes later, but officials are expected to give at least one type the green light this year.  

The UK has ordered 40million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine – with the first batch set to arrive next month – and five million of Moderna’s – which are due in spring next year. It also has an order in place for up to 100million vials of Oxford’s candidate which scientists say should finish clinical trials by Christmas.

The leaked NHS plans suggest vaccines could be made available to all UK adults by the end of January but most 18 to 50-year-olds, who are the least likely to get severe Covid-19 and die, would likely be vaccinated in March.  

In other coronavirus news:

  • Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson warned most Covid curbs should stay after national shutdown ends on December 2 or infections will ‘rebound’;
  • Northern Ireland is going into lockdow again just days after reopening, with all non-essential shops, hair salons and cafes forced to close from next Friday in another tough two-week shutdown; 
  • Rishi Sunak is facing a battle with trade unions as they brand his pay squeeze for five million public sector workers – apart from nurses and doctors – a ‘cruel body blow’ as he scrambles for ways to help pay for coronavirus recovery;
  • Ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government should test everyone for coronavirus once a month to make a ‘freedom pass’ system where people with negative results can live normal lives; 
  • People with COVID-19 antibodies are protected against reinfection for at least six months, an Oxford study has found. 

The Health Secretary raised hopes last week when he said it could be possible to dish out Pfizer’s vaccine – which looks most likely to be approved first – to high risk groups from December 1.

But officials are waiting for the jab to be given the green light from the UK’s drugs watchdog, which is now poring over data from Pfizer’s studies to make sure the vaccine is safe enough to give to millions of people.

Mr Hancock said today he’s ‘still holding out hope’ the process will be wrapped up in weeks and that vulnerable Brits could start getting their hands on a jab sometime next month as part of the first wave of the crucial operation.

He added that he was taking ‘personal control’ of the roll out that could see NHS England administering an unprecedented one million doses every day.

However, the Health Secretary – who is still failing to live up to his promise of 500,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of October – admitted it was going to be ‘one of the biggest civilian projects in history’. 

Not only does the NHS have the enormous Covid-19 vaccination programme to contend with, it is also being asked to administer 30 million flu jabs – the most ever – to protect the health service from the twin threats of both viruses. 

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme during a round of interviews this morning, Mr Hancock said: ‘We’ve changed the law to change the number of clinically qualified people who can vaccinate because this is going to be one of the biggest civilian projects in history.

‘It will be led by the NHS, who have of course the annual experience of a mass vaccination programme in flu, and it will involve GPs, it will involve the broader NHS as well, and hospitals.

‘We have got this enormous flu vaccination programme and then the likely big numbers, if it comes off, and I stress the ‘if’, will be next year for a Covid vaccine but we still hold out the hope that we might get some going in December this year.’

HOW DOES HANCOCK PLAN TO VACCINATE A MILLION PEOPLE A DAY? 

The Health Secretary has revealed ambitions to inoculate a million Brits against Covid every day as soon as a vaccinate is given the green light by the UK drugs watchdog.

Though Mr Hancock has admitted it was going to be ‘one of the biggest civilian projects in history’. 

Normally the NHS vaccinates 15 million people against flu every year winter over the space of about four months. 

The Government plans to set up dozens of mass coronavirus vaccination sites across the country in the coming weeks.

Doctors, nurses, firefighters and soldiers will be trained up to help deliver the inoculations. 

Retired medics, medical students and other NHS staff who normally don’t give vaccines – including physiotherapists – are also being recruited. 

GP surgeries have been told to organise the initial wave, which will involve using community centres, village halls, and practices themselves to administer the jabs to care workers and the elderly as soon as next month.

The NHS is establishing a series of much larger venues to inject millions of others once those at the top of the priority list have had the jabs. 

Empty NHS Nightingale Hospitals and sports centres, including the Derby Arena, area are reportedly being lined up as possible venues.

Mr Hancock told Sky News the roll out should be ‘relatively straightforward’ because the NHS has the infrastructure.

But the health service will have to juggle the unprecedented Covid drive with the biggest flu vaccination programme ever – 30million people are being vaccinated on the NHS compared the 15million normally.

There is also the logistical problems with Pfizer’s vaccine – which looks set to be the first jab to be approved.

It needs to be stored at -70°C (-94°F), which means the UK will need to buy specialist freezers and huge supplies of dry ice. 

Asked if he will be taking personal control of the roll out, the Health Secretary said: ‘Yes. I have been reporting to the Prime Minister weekly, the NHS will be taking control of the delivery and they report to me on it. We have some of the top people in the NHS spending their entire time on it.’ 

Mr Hancock said as soon as a Covid-19 vaccine is given the green light, dozens of mass coronavirus vaccination sites will be set up across the country in the coming weeks, while firefighters will be trained up to help deliver the inoculations. 

GP surgeries have been told to organise the initial wave, which will involve using community centres, village halls, and practices themselves to administer the jabs to care workers and the elderly as soon as next month.

The NHS is establishing a series of much larger venues to inject millions of others once those at the top of the priority list have had the jabs. 

Empty NHS Nightingale Hospitals and sports centres, including the Derby Arena, area are reportedly being lined up as possible venues. 

Firefighters are also being encouraged  to join an army of 40,000 extra workers, that will also include retired medics and medical students.

It was revealed last night that the NHS will expand its winter flu jab roll out to millions more people this winter too.

Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘Normally 15 million people are vaccinated against flu. This year it will be 30 million – the biggest number in history.

‘We hope that we will also have a Covid vaccination programme alongside that. It will be a huge effort, but I know that the NHS is up for it.’

He echoed the comments during an interview with BBC Breakfast, where he said: ‘I don’t deny that it’s a huge amount of work for the NHS and I’m very grateful for the unbelievable shift they’ve pulled this year and we’ve still got to deliver this this winter.

‘There are of course pressures on the NHS this year – by God there’s pressures, thanks to Covid – and for everybody who works in the NHS I want to say thank you for the work that you are doing.’

According to documents seen by the Health Service Journal, the expectation is that the full Covid vaccination operation will start in the New Year, though vulnerable Brits could start getting inoculated Covid before then.

The vaccination drive is likely to involve conference centres and drive-through sites such as those used by the Covid testing programme.

According to the Telegraph, Derby City Council has confirmed it is in talks with the Government over plans to use the Derby Arena as a vaccine site.

It could become one of the first sites where the vaccine is administered, as early as mid-December, the paper reports.

Every major city will get a dedicated mass vaccination centre, according to the Sun.

The paper reports that 50 sites are planned in sports arenas, town halls and NHS Nightingale hospitals , along with 1,000 smaller sites across England. 

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine works by using genetic material called RNA from the coronavirus to trick the body into making the ‘spike’ proteins that the virus uses to latch onto cells inside the body, and then training the immune systems to attack the spikes

The vaccination army, who will be trained, will be supported by an additional 30,000-strong team St John Ambulance volunteers (pictured: Library image), the paper adds

Pfizer and BioNTech’s final trial results showed that only eight people out more than 20,000 who got the vaccine caught coronavirus, compared to 162 who were given a fake jab 

Meanwhile, the NHS is said to be launching a major recruitment drive to hire up to 40,000 thousand staff to administer the Pfizer vaccine, with trained medics and nurses at the top of their wish list. 

But retired ­doctors and nurses and those who have first-aid skills from their jobs, including firefighters, police community support officers and members of the Armed Forces will also be targeted in the recruitment drive, the Sun reports.

MASS-TESTING STUDY SHOWS CASES DROPPED 18% IN FIRST WEEK OF LOCKDOWN

England’s coronavirus outbreak slowed down in the first full week of the second national shutdown and the R rate across the UK could be as low as 1, according to official data that raises hopes for a lockdown-free Christmas. 

Office for National Statistics data published this afternoon showed daily infections dropped from 47,700 to 38,900 between November 8 and November 14, a fall of 18 per cent. The ONS said the rate of new infections ‘appears to have levelled off in the most recent week’.

The promising numbers from the ONS seem to suggest that both the Tier Three local lockdown rules and, later, the national shutdown, are successfully slowing down the spread of the virus. Experts at the statistical body said: ‘The rate of increase [in positive tests] in England has slowed in recent weeks’.  

Meanwhile, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the reproduction ‘R’ rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient passes the disease to – had fallen slightly to a maximum of 1.1, from a maximum of 1.2 last week, and could be as low as 1.0 or lower in every region of Britain.

Modelling by the group estimates the R is now between 1.0 and 1.1, meaning on average every 10 Britons with Covid will infect between 10 and 11 others. 

They estimated this figure was between 1.0 and 1.2 last week. The R is one of many indicators scientists use to assess the trajectory of Covid and getting it below 1 means the virus is in retreat. 

The promising data are a major boost for Boris Johnson’s plans to loosen lockdown for five days over Christmas and let families reunite after a tumultuous year that has seen loved ones separated for months on end. 

Negotiations are ongoing between the four home nations as they try to hammer out the safest way to let people celebrate the festive period without reversing the effects of lockdown and letting the virus surge again.

The vaccination army, who will be trained, will be supported by an additional 30,000-strong team St John Ambulance volunteers, the paper adds.

Britain’s drug regulator earlier this week revealed it is now waiting on Pfizer to send over the full results of its final Covid-19 vaccine trial after the pharmaceutical giant claimed it was safe, 95 per cent effective and works in older people who are most at risk of dying from the disease.

The US company, most famous for making Viagra, announced it would submit the necessary data to regulators in America and the UK ‘within days’, bolstering hopes that Britain could embark on its major Army-backed operation to vaccinate millions of people from as soon as December 1.

UK drug regulator the MHRA has been doing a ‘rolling review’ of the vaccine and could, as a result, complete the approval process within a matter of days of receiving the application from Pfizer and BioNTech, the German firm involved in making the jab.

Dr June Raine, the agency’s chief executive, said: ‘The results reported by Pfizer are very encouraging and add to their announcement from last week.

‘We look forward to receiving the full results of the trials as soon as possible, after which we will rigorously assess the evidence of safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.’

Britain has already pre-ordered 40million doses of the vaccine and could be set to get 10m of those next month, with the NHS gearing up start dishing it out within a fortnight.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, this week said the health service was ‘working incredibly hard’ to prepare.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s final trial results showed that only eight people out more than 20,000 who got the vaccine caught coronavirus, compared to 162 who were given a fake jab.

A total of 10 people got severe Covid-19, one of whom had been given the real vaccine.

An independent safety committee ‘has not reported any serious safety concerns related to the vaccine’ since the final stage trial began in July, Pfizer said.

Side effects were limited – the most common was fatigue, which 3.8 per cent of people got, and headaches (2 per cent).

The updated data from Pfizer and BioNTech should reassure critics but the Government still faces the mammoth task of transporting and storing the jab, which may need expensive specialist freezers and huge supplies of dry ice to keep it at the required -70°C (-94°F).  

The announcement is an improvement on Pfizer’s early estimate that the vaccine was 90 per cent effective, and comes just days after rival firm Moderna claimed its own jab was 94.5 per cent effective.

Unlike Pfizer’s jab, Moderna’s jab can be kept in normal fridges and freezers at between -20°C (-4°F) and 8°C (46°F). 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier this week confirmed that Britain would get 5million doses of the jab starting in March 2021, if it’s approved by regulators.

The deal is expected to cost the UK between £24 ($32) and £28 ($37) per dose – while the US, which pre-ordered the jab months ago, will pay just $15 (£11.32) and is expected to get access next month if health chiefs approve the jab.

The UK is likely to pay around £15 per jab for the Pfizer vaccine.

Meanwhile, the home-grown vaccine being developed by Oxford University and Astrazenica could cost as little as £2.23. Results for the UK jab are expected in December.

Scientists warn final results for Oxford vaccine won’t come for weeks

Oxford University’s Covid vaccine is unlikely to be used in the UK before Christmas as the scientists running the project said they don’t expect to have results to give regulators until December.

The researchers today published a study confirming that their vaccine candidate triggers an immune response in older people, who are most at risk of severe Covid-19, and that trials had not found any safety issues.

But the timescale for the jab, which Number 10 has ordered 100million doses of and is considered one of Britain’s greatest hopes for ending the epidemic, may stretch into early 2021 before people start getting injected.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said today that he was ‘optimistic’ that the study would produce results showing how well it protects against Covid before Christmas. The following procedure for getting it licensed and then delivered to clinics, however, is ‘not under our control’ and could take weeks longer, he said, which would push the delivery into next year.

Scientists behind the project this morning published the results of an early trial of the jab, which found two doses created strong signs of immunity in 99 per cent of people across all age groups.

The second-phase study included 560 volunteers, most of whom were white and British, and showed that people across all age groups seemed to react equally well to the jab. It adds to data published in July suggesting it would work safely for under-55s. Studies of people with serious health conditions and other ethnicities are ongoing.

It marks another breakthrough in the race to develop a vaccine to prevent Covid, after jabs made by Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech were both revealed to be around 95 per cent effective within the past week.

Oxford’s results are from an earlier stage of trials so cannot estimate how well the vaccine protects against Covid, but are still a positive step. The research showed people in all age groups developed neutralising antibodies – virus-destroying substances made by the immune system – within 28 days of their first dose of the vaccine, and these were boosted further after the second dose.

It showed that the vaccine caused more side effects than a fake jab but that these were ‘mild’ and more common in young people than older participants. Within the first week after having the injection more than eight out of 10 under-55s said their arm hurt and and they later experienced tiredness, muscle aches or headaches. Experts explained this might just be because younger people’s immune systems are more active and likely to over-react.

 

 

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