The first batch of coronavirus vaccines has been received by hospital hubs across the country – as NHS trusts prepare to roll out the biggest mass immunisation programme in the UK’s history this week.
Photographs show masked pharmacy technicians at Croydon University Hospital in Croydon taking delivery of the first shipment of the breakthrough Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 jab over the weekend.
They had to overcome a complex and difficult logistical challenge when receiving the vaccine, which needs to be stored at –70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times before being used.
With 357 million doses ordered by the Government – and 800,000 already being sent by Pfizer – it is hoped that 10 million doses will be here by the year’s end, and can bring a swift end to the pandemic.
People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab, which has been shown to be 95 per cent effective at blocking Covid-19 infection, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk.
Vaccinations will be administered at dozens of hospital hubs from Tuesday – with people aged 80 and over, care home workers and NHS workers who are at higher risk the first to receive the jab.
Its distribution is being undertaken by Public Health England and the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through systems specially adapted from those used for the national immunisation programmes. NHS England said staff were working through the weekend to prepare for the launch.
Croydon health officials praised the delivery of the long-anticipated vaccine, which is typically delivered by an injection in the shoulder, calling it ‘a pivotal moment for the country’.
It comes as the head of the UK’s drug regulator said there ‘should be no doubt’ about the safety of the Covid-19 jab after Britain became the first country to authorise the jab for emergency use.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there should be ‘real confidence’ in the rigour of their approval amid fears that the UK failed to scrutinise data from manufacturers so it could become the first country in the world to rubber-stamp its use.
The MHRA strongly disputes any claims that it has cut corners, saying its decision went through a series of panels before being approved. Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show about how important the public health message is to make sure that people actually take the vaccine, Dr Raine said: ‘It’s vitally important.
‘There’s really not one of us who hasn’t been affected by this pandemic, and our organisation, like every other, has been completely focused on doing our job to be able to help defeat this terrible disease.’
A further 17,272 coronavirus cases in the UK were recorded today – marking a 42 per cent rise on last Sunday.
In other coronavirus news:
- Matt Hancock said the UK’s approval of the vaccine means restrictions could be relaxed before April;
- The Mail on Sunday reported that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh could have the jab within weeks;
- Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Manchester this afternoon in a peaceful anti-lockdown demonstration, as one man was detained by police for flying a drone;
- Military planes could fly-in the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine amid fears of post-Brexit delays at Britain’s ports;
- Half of Britons say they will not be meeting relatives indoors over Christmas despite the ‘bubble’ loosening;
- Football and rugby fans were allowed back into stadiums to watch matches following the second lockdown;
- Labour came under fire for ‘sitting in the stands’ by abstaining on crucial coronavirus lockdown measures.
A pharmacy technician from Croydon Health Services (left) takes delivery at Croydon University Hospital in Croydon of the first batch of Covid-19 vaccinations to be delivered to the area
Photographs show masked pharmacy technicians at Croydon University Hospital in Croydon taking delivery of the first shipment of the breakthrough Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 jab over the weekend
They had to overcome a complex and difficult logistical challenge when receiving the vaccine, which needs to be stored at –70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times before being used
People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab, which has been shown to be 95 per cent effective at blocking Covid-19 infection, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk
A pharmacy technician from Croydon Health Services takes delivery at Croydon University Hospital in Croydon of the first batch of Covid-19 vaccinations to be delivered to the area
Matthew Kershaw, Chief Executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust and Place Based Leader for Health said: ‘This is a pivotal moment for the country and for us in Croydon, as one of the first Hospital Hubs to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. We’re delighted to be playing our part, vaccinating the most vulnerable people in our communities and ensuring the safety of our patients, our local people and our health and care professionals who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic’
A graphic shows where the 50 NHS hubs, special jab centres and GP clinics offering the vaccine next week are located
A graphic shows how the Pfizer jab will work, by entering the patient’s cells, causing the immune system to produce antibodies and activate T-cells ready to destroy those infected with coronavirus
A graphic shows how patients will get the jab, including who will provide it and how long it will grant immunity from Covid-19
A graphic demonstrates the order of priority in which the vaccine will be rolled out, starting with residents in care homes
LIST OF THE 50 HOSPITAL HUBS IN THE FIRST WAVE OF COVID-19 VACCINE PROGRAMME
- Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust
- Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- East Suffolk And North Essex NHS Foundation Trust
- North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust
- James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Norfolk And Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust
- Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
- Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
- Croydon Health Services NHS Trust
- St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – Denmark Hill
- King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – Princess Royal University Hospital
- Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust
- Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- University Hospitals Coventry And Warwickshire NHS Trust
- Royal Stoke Hospital
- Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
- University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust
- United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust
- Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Shrewsbury And Telford Hospital NHS Trust
- Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
- Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
- The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
- South Tees NHS Trust
- Wirral University Teaching Hospital
- Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust
- Stockport NHS Foundation Trust
- Blackpool Teaching Hospital
- Lancashire Teaching Hospital Trust
- Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust – Wexham Park Hospital
- Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- East Kent Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – William Harvey Hospital
- Brighton And Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust – Royal Sussex County Hospital
- Portsmouth University Hospitals Trust
- Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust
- Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
- University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust
- Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- North Bristol NHS Trust
Matthew Kershaw, Chief Executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust and Place Based Leader for Health said: ‘This is a pivotal moment for the country and for us in Croydon, as one of the first Hospital Hubs to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
‘We’re delighted to be playing our part, vaccinating the most vulnerable people in our communities and ensuring the safety of our patients, our local people and our health and care professionals who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.’
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday. The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will be landing at hospitals by Monday in readiness.
‘The NHS has a strong record of delivering large scale vaccination programmes – from the flu jab, HPV vaccine and lifesaving MMR jabs – hardworking staff will once again rise to the challenge to protect the most vulnerable people from this awful disease.’
It comes as the UK drug regulator moved to quash concerns that Britain rushed its approval of the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 jab.
When Dr June Raine was asked how she had coped with becoming a ‘global figure’ and about reports that the Queen, 94, will have the Pfizer injection within weeks, she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: ‘I’m proud, I’m honoured. I think that news that you’ve just given us is humbling, and it’s everything that we’re here to do at the MHRA.
‘We’re a public health organisation, we work as full partners, if I can say, in the public health family, and our goal is totally to protect every member of the population, Her Majesty of course, as well.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice today said it will be a ‘personal decision’ for the Queen whether she takes the vaccine.
Asked on Times Radio if he would like to see the monarch take the vaccine and then announce publicly that she had done so, Mr Eustice said: ‘It will be a personal decision for the Queen, as it is for everyone.’
When asked about reports that the Queen, 94, and Duke of Edinburgh, 99, would have the jab within weeks and make it public, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘Medical decisions are personal and this is not something we will comment on.’
Due to their age, the Queen and Prince Philip would be considered a priority for the vaccine.
Meanwhile, there is still no guaranteed date for when care home residents will be vaccinated despite them being at the top of the priority list, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying there are ‘significant challenges’ to overcome.
Logistical issues mean there are difficulties in getting the jab to residents, as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at –70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used. The vaccine boxes containing 975 doses will need to be split so that they can be brought to care homes.
Dr Raine told Marr: ‘We have approved how the vaccine can be put into the small packs, but obviously what we’re doing is giving advice and guidance on how well that, carefully, that is done.
‘Our goal is to ensure that the vaccine reaches people in care homes, the residents there, as safely as possible. So, everyone is working hard with our colleagues in the NHS, to make sure that happens safely.’
Asked when people will get the vaccine, she replied: ‘As I say we’re working very hard to make sure that this is done as quickly as possible.
‘It’s a special vaccine, it does need to be kept very cold, and then when the larger packs are split into smaller ones to go to where they will be given, that does need to be done very carefully, but I think we’ll be seeing the first person in a matter of days having that really important vaccine.’
There are 50 hubs in the first wave of the vaccination programme in England, with more hospitals starting to vaccinate over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.
Britain has recorded a further 17,272 coronavirus cases today – marking a 42 per cent rise on last Sunday’s total
Official figures released today also revealed a further 231 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 – a 7.4 per cent rise on the 215 deaths reported last Sunday
A further 231 coronavirus deaths have been recorded today with 17,272 new daily cases – a sharp increase on last Sunday’s 12,155 new cases (pictured: training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry)
Why is the Pfizer vaccine so difficult to transport? Light, temperatures above -70C and movement ALL speed up the chemical reactions that destroy fragile mRNA — meaning care homes have been sidelined
But the breakthrough jab — shown to be 95 per cent effective at blocking Covid-19 infection — has thrown up a series of logistical hurdles that make getting the vaccine to those who need it most challenging, including care homes.
The issues stem from the fact the vaccine is made from volatile genetic material known as mRNA, which is constantly under threat from being destroyed by other molecules in the environment.
Biontech packages the vaccine in dry-ice stuffed batches of 975 vials, each containing five doses, which must be stored at -70C to stop the mRNA being destroyed in transit or storage.
Messenger RNA is used by human cells to carry messages and give instructions. Pfizer’s jab tells the body to create the coronavirus’s unique spike protein, training the immune system to recognise and fight off future infection.
But, as a result of the natural rapid turnaround of mRNA’s lifespan, it is, by nature, a short-lived molecule only ever intended to exist for a matter of hours.
This poses a significant problem when trying to get the mRNA vaccine into a human as under normal conditions it will break down and become useless.
There are not many proven ways of ensuring long-term survival of the vaccine. One proven method is extremely cold temperatures, which stops all movement and reactions and prevents any form of decomposition of the mRNA. However, the vaccine must be administered at room temperature because the mRNA needs to be mobile.
Asked about the impact of Brexit on the rollout of the vaccines, Dr Raine told Marr: ‘What I’d like to say is that our goal at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is to make sure that whatever the outcome, whatever the deal, that medicines and medical devices and vaccines reach anyone in all parts of the country in the same way, without any interruption at all.
‘And we’ve rehearsed, we’re ready, and we know that whatever the deal, we will be able to ensure that people have access.’ She said they are ‘fully prepared for any possible outcome’.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said there will be no disruption to the vaccine, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘Huge amounts of work has gone on to maintain the flow of goods at the border in the event of there being a no-deal Brexit and we have also got contingency plans in place including a government procured ferry that is on standby and of course, the option, should it be needed, to use air freight too.
‘We have got many contingency plans in place and there won’t be any effect on the deployment of this vaccine from a no-deal Brexit.’
Meanwhile, Matt Hancock last night said that the UK’s fast-track approval of the Covid vaccine means restrictions could be relaxed before the end of March.
The Health Secretary said he ‘can’t wait to scrap this tiered system altogether’ and for the country to ‘get back to living by mutual respect and personal responsibility, not laws set in Parliament’.
Earlier this year he even declared he was ready to snitch on a neighbour breaking self-isolation rules. But in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he signalled that the vaccine rollout could soon remove many of the anti-Covid measures.
Asked whether the start of administering the vaccine to Britons this week could bring about a quicker end to the restrictions in the first three months of next year, Mr Hancock said: ‘Yes it will.’
He also said: ‘There’s no doubt that having the vaccine early… will bring forward the moment when we can get rid of these blasted restrictions, but until then we have got to follow them. Help is on its way.’
The first vaccinations were being shipped to 50 locations around the UK this weekend ahead of the first inoculation in all four countries of the UK on Tuesday, on what Mr Hancock is calling ‘V Day’.
The Health Secretary said millions of doses of vaccine from Pfizer will be in the UK before the end of the year, while a second vaccine from Oxford University and drug firm AstraZeneca could win approval from the UK regulator before Christmas.
The Government now aims to vaccinate more than half of the UK’s vulnerable people by the end of February.
Mr Hancock added that the mass vaccination programme will also involve a large-scale government advertising campaign, fronted by celebrities and other trusted voices, and launched before Christmas.
Meanwhile, Britain today recorded a further 17,272 coronavirus cases today – marking a 42 per cent rise on last Sunday’s total. The figure – an increase of more than 5,000 cases on the 12,155 reported this time last week – comes on the first weekend since England’s nation-wide lockdown was lifted.
As of Wednesday, all non-essential shops reopened under the tier system and Britons in tiers one and two were able to return to cafes, pubs and restaurants. Official figures released today also revealed a further 231 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 – a 7.4 per cent rise on the 215 deaths reported last Sunday.
Britain’s approval of the Covid vaccine means restrictions could be relaxed before the end of March, Matt Hancock said
The approval of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday was hailed as the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel that could finally revert Britain back to a pre-pandemic normality. But the breakthrough jab — shown to be 95 per cent effective at blocking Covid-19 infection — has thrown up a series of logistical hurdles which make getting the vaccine to those who need it most challenging
Photographs shows rows of freezers which will keep the vaccines at temperatures as low as -70C ahead of their roll out to care homes and GP surgeries within a fortnight
When ready for injection, vials are warmed to room temperature over a two-hour period, diluted and drawn into needles, and then teams have six hours in which to vaccinate patients
Rows of vaccine have been stored in the freezers in a secure location ahead of their expected rollout within the next ten days. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still has to rubber-stamp the protocol for removing the fragile vaccine from its deep-freeze, but officials expect that to be resolved within days
GPs were told to prepare to receive doses in the week starting December 14, with care homes expected to receive the vaccine in the same week. Pictured, a lorry leaves Pfizer Manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium
Today’s figures bring the UK death total to 61,245, up from yesterday’s figure of 61,014. The number of new infections over the last seven days stands at 105,918 – which is a drop of 647 (0.6 per cent) from the seven days before that – November 23 to November 29.
The figure for deaths over the last seven days is now 3,002, a drop of 221 (6.9 per cent) from the previous week.
Separate regional figures had revealed a further 1,916 cases of coronavirus in Wales. Public Health Wales reported another 14 deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,709.
Another 11 people have died with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has said. A further 419 people tested positive for the virus.
Yesterday the Government said an additional 397 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
The worst of Britain’s resurgence of Covid may well be over, as SAGE has revealed the R rate has fallen for the fourth week in a row and could now be as low as 0.8.
No10’s scientific advisory panel claimed outbreaks were shrinking in every part of the country.
And Office for National Statistics data showed the number of daily coronavirus infections in England plummeted by almost half last month, from 47,700 per day to 25,700 in the week ending November 28, in more proof that the disease has began to fade away.
The report estimated that a total of 521,300 people were carrying the virus in England on November 28, down from 665,000 just two weeks earlier.
Separate infection estimates produced by the Covid Symptom Study say there are just 15,845 people developing symptoms of coronavirus each day in England, down from a peak of 44,000 at the end of October.
Although the numbers are different to those made by the ONS, they illustrate the same downward trend.
COVID VACCINES WILL HAVE ‘MARGINAL IMPACT’ ON WINTER HOSPITAL NUMBERS
Health services face a tough three months over the winter period as new coronavirus vaccines will only have a ‘marginal impact’ on hospital numbers, the UK’s four chief medical officers have warned.
In a letter written to colleagues, the four said that festive gatherings were likely to put additional pressure on healthcare services.
The letter read: ‘Winter is always a challenging time for the NHS and wider health and social care service. This year will be especially hard due to Covid-19.
‘Although the very welcome news about vaccines means that we can look forward to 2021 with greater optimism, vaccine deployment will have only a marginal impact in reducing numbers coming into the health service with Covid over the next three months.
‘The actions and self-discipline of the whole population during lockdowns and other restrictions have helped reduce the peak and in most parts of the four nations hospital numbers are likely to fall over the next few weeks, but not everywhere.
‘The social mixing which occurs around Christmas may well put additional pressure on hospitals and general practice in the New Year and we need to be ready for that.’
The letter praised health workers for responding ‘magnificently’ to the challenges of the pandemic and stressed the importance of continuing support for others within the profession.
But it added that it was ‘essential’ that the next months were used to learn more about the virus to help inform treatments.
‘We do not expect Covid to disappear even once full vaccination has occurred although it will be substantially less important as a cause of mortality and morbidity,’ it said.
‘It is therefore absolutely essential that we use the next months to learn as much as we can as we expect Covid to be less common in the future.
‘This will allow us to have the best chance of a strong evidence base for managing it over the coming years.’
The chief medical officer of England, Professor Chris Whitty; of Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith; of Wales, Dr Frank Atherton; and of Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, all signed the letter.
How do I get a jab, who administers it and how long will it last? All your questions about Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine answered
You’ll be contacted and asked to book an appointment under a ‘call and recall system’.
This is possible because central NHS computers have access to the population’s personal information – such as our name, age, address and phone number.
The ‘call’ is to invite you to arrange an appointment for the first jab of two necessary doses; the ‘recall’ is for the booster 21 days later.
Jabs are via needle in the upper arm.
Partial immunity is estimated after 12 days, with full effectiveness seven days after the second dose – (i.e. 28 days after first jab).
You’ll be asked to stay at the vaccine site for 15 minutes after the jab in case of a bad reaction.
Vaccine staff will be working on Christmas Day. England’s 6,800 GP practices are organising into around 1,000 ‘networks’, and will choose one dedicated surgery to act as a vaccination centre.
Who’ll give the jab?
Regular NHS staff, newly-trained recruits and volunteers such as the St John Ambulance.
Will it grant immunity from Covid-19?
Analysis shows the jab can prevent 95 per cent of people from getting Covid-19, including 94 per cent in older age groups. Immunity is expected to last at least six months and possibly much longer.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns were raised.
The World Health Organisation says the jab is an ‘extra control element,’ in tackling Covid-19, meaning other measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks, will stay in place
Some trial volunteers experienced sore arms, fever and muscle ache, but nothing more serious.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is monitoring for anything more dangerous.
Will social distancing and masks still be needed?
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy for Covid-19, says the vaccine is ‘an extra control element,’ adding: ‘It’s not going to replace the other measures for a number of months, even perhaps a year, so we’ll have to keep doing physical distancing, hygiene, mask wearing and isolating when we’re sick.’
Ministers have not said how much, but the US government ordered 100million doses from Pfizer for $1.95billion.
That suggests about £30 for the two shots required per person.
The Oxford vaccine is likely to cost £2.23 a dose, or £4.46 for the two-dose course needed.
Immunity starts to build following the first vaccine, but second one is required to give full protection from Covid-19. Health Secretary Matt Hancock hopes the Government will ease restrictions once the jab sees infection rates come down
How many people need to be vaccinated to lift restrictions?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock concedes that while the vaccine protects an individual, it’s unclear what impact it has on reducing transmission.
He’s said that as ‘more and more vulnerable people are vaccinated, we hope to see those rates come down and therefore we will be able to lift the restrictions.’
Is it available privately?
No. Pfizer is only supplying governments ‘during the initial pandemic stage’.
Despite no plans for official ‘immunity passports’ – which could give people who have been inoculated, and thus virus-free, easier access to places such as pubs and restaurants – Ministers admit discussing their possible use.