UK to rollout Pfizer-BioNtech’s COVID-19 vaccine next week: Who will get it first, and other FAQs

The authorisation to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech now clears the way for the deployment of a vaccine that’s expected to play a significant role in the global effort to cub the coronavirus

UK to rollout Pfizer-BioNtech's COVID-19 vaccine next week: Who will get it first, and other FAQs

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, announcing a rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s jab from next week in a major advance for humanity’s fightback against the coronavirus. AFP

Raising hopes for a major victory in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Britain has given emergency approval to Pfizer-BioNtech’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

Britain has now leaped ahead of the United States to become the first Western nation to allow mass inoculations against a disease that has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

The authorisation to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer, a US pharmaceutical giant, and BioNTech, a much smaller German firm now clears the way for the deployment of a vaccine that’s expected to play a significant role in the global effort to cub the coronavirus .

As the UK prepares to roll out this vaccine, here’s a quick guide to frequently asked questions.

Is the vaccine ready for use?

Yes!

As per Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the first 800,000 doses will be available in the UK from next week. “That will be ramped up to “millions” of inoculations by the end of the year, he added.

With a nod from Britain’s medicines regulator, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for emergency authorisation, Pfizer on Wednesday said it will immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the UK.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in the press release. The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years, as per the BBC

The US pharmaceutical giant has also been gearing up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the US Food and Drug Administration, with a decision expected as early as next week, as per The Associated Press.

While the UK has ordered enough Pfizer vaccine for 20 million people, it’s not clear how many will arrive by year’s end. Adding to the distribution challenges, the Pfizer vaccine must also be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

Pfizer has said that it has developed shipping containers that use dry ice to keep the vaccine cool. GPS-enabled sensors will allow the company to track each shipment and ensure they stay cold it added.

Who will get the vaccine first?

As per a statement from the British government, frontline health care workers and nursing home residents will be first in line to get vaccinated, followed by older adults.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff are top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

Hancock said that because of the limited stocks of the vaccine and need to store at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospitals so care home residents may not be immunised until later.

People should wait to be contacted by the National Health Service (NHS), he added.

How many doses of the vaccine does one person require?

As per AFP, the vaccine requires two doses 21 days apart, and the MHRA said immunity kicks in a week after the second dose.

But the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, meaning not enough shots have been secured for the UK population of over 66 million.  With scarce doses everywhere, initial supplies will be rationed until more is manufactured in the first several months of next year.

What is the cost of the vaccine?

As per this Al Jazeera report, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots are estimated to cost about 15 British pounds ($20) per dose.

How safe is the vaccine?

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the UK, recommended the vaccine could be used after it reviewed the results of clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95 percent effective overall — and that it also offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.

In a clinical trial, the vaccine proved effective among older adults, who are more vulnerable to developing severe COVID-19 and who do not respond strongly to some types of vaccines, reports the New York Times.

The shots made by  Pfizer and BioNTech were tested in tens of thousands of people. And while that study isn’t complete, early results suggest the vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease.

The companies told regulators that of the first 170 infections detected in study volunteers, only eight were among people who’d received the actual vaccine and the rest had gotten a dummy shot.

“This is an extraordinarily strong protection,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO, recently told The Associated Press.

The companies also reported no serious side effects, although vaccine recipients may experience temporary pain and flu-like reactions immediately after injections.

Final testing must still be completed. Another question to determine is whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shots protect against people spreading the coronavirus without showing symptoms.

The vaccine also has been tested in only a small number of children, none younger than 12, and there’s no information on its effects in pregnant women.

How does this vaccine work?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is based on new mRNA technology. The mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) is used to deliver genetic material to the body that makes human cells create a protein from the virus. This trains the immune system to be ready to attack if it encounters the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus .

How long with the protection last?

Although the data released by Pfizer about the vaccine does not indicate how long immunity lasts, it has indicated that protection against the COVID-19 virus is achieved 28 days after vaccination.

Even though the UK has become the first country to approve a vaccine candidate for emergency use, countries aren’t far behind. Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc. British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

With inputs from agencies