It will be the biggest vaccination drive in history, a logistical operation almost unparalleled in peacetime, but what will it mean for you and your loved ones?
With the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab due in Britain in the coming days, the first concrete details began to emerge yesterday of how the vaccine will be rolled out, to whom first and when.
Officials hope to have several million doses of the Pfizer jab available before the end of the year.
With each person needing two doses, that means several million could be vaccinated by the end of the year.
But getting the jab to frontline NHS and care staff, the clinically vulnerable, the elderly and care home residents over the next few weeks is a formidable task that requires complex co-ordination.
That is before the jab is then rolled out to the rest of the country in the early part of next year.
Here, we try to give you as much information as possible about the rollout of the vaccine, how it will work and where you will receive it.
It begins at the Pfizer factory in Puurs, Belgium, where trucks will soon be leaving with specialist containers, each the size of a suitcase.
These will be packed with dry ice to keep the vaccine at the required ultra-low temperatures of about -70C (-94F).
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, had recommended that care home residents and staff be vaccinated fist.
But officials have warned the programme will be ‘logistically complicated’, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) placing limits on the number of times doses can be moved or transported.
The packs of doses – each containing 975 – cannot be easily split, limiting where they can be used without any going to waste.
It means the first batches next week will go to 50 hospital hubs with facilities to store them.
They will administer the initial jabs to care home and NHS staff as well as elderly patients who may already have a hospital appointment, to ensure none of the vaccine is wasted.
As more becomes available in the new year, GP practices will start to operate local vaccination centres, with patients invited for appointments by letter or text message.
The centres will be staffed by nurses, doctors, paramedics and other healthcare workers with additional training, such as pharmacists, physiotherapists and dental therapists.
Game-changer: A new Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and officials are hopeful they will have secured several million doses of the jab by the end of 2020 (file photo)
Volunteers, St John’s Ambulance members, students, lifeguards, community fire officers and airline staff will also be able to administer injections once they have received training.
If regulators approve a safe way to split packs of doses, care homes will receive stocks, the head of the NHS said last night.
There are hopes that GPs can visit care home residents and housebound patients at home without them needing to travel, but there are concerns that limits on how many times the vaccine can be safely moved may make this difficult.
Ultimately, the jabs will be given at mass vaccination hubs, such as football stadiums and conference centres.
These will operate from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, including bank holidays and even Christmas Day to vaccinate people based on the priority list.
Each site will be provided with PPE and vaccine equipment and expected to vaccinate at least 1,000 a week.
NHS chief Simon Stevens told a Downing Street briefing that it would take until March or April for the entire at-risk population to be vaccinated.
He said: ‘This is an important next step in our response to the pandemic and hospitals will shortly kick off the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.
The NHS has a proven track record of delivering largescale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to BCG and, once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a programme that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months.’
Once vaccinated, people will be asked to take part in monitoring programmes for side effects.
Professor Munir Pirmohamed, of the Commission on Human Medicines’ expert working group, said there had been no known serious adverse reactions in the trial.
Kate Bingham, chairman of the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce, said: ‘Today is a momentous occasion and the UK will go down in history as the country that led the world in one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our time.’
The Government has ordered 40million doses of the jab – enough to vaccinate 20million with the necessary two doses, given 21 days apart.
IS IT SUCH A BIG DEAL?
Approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) means that Britain will be the first country to have any authorised vaccine against coronavirus – an incredible achievement.
WHEN DOES IT START?
Some 800,000 doses are expected to arrive at 50 hospitals in England in time for vaccination to start on Monday.
WHO GETS IT FIRST?
Because hospitals have the large freezers suitable of storing the vaccine, they will kick off the programme. The over-80s will get it first, most likely those patients who were already booked in for outpatient appointments. Hospitals will also start vaccinating their own staff, as well as other NHS workers and care home staff.
AND CARE HOMES?
Care home residents are at the very top of its prioritisation list. But the practicalities of distributing the vaccine mean there is likely to be a delay of a few days, even a couple of weeks, before it gets to them.
WHY THE HOLD-UP?
The Pfizer vaccine has to be transported and stored at -70C (-94F) in containers holding trays of 975 doses. The initial authorisation says those trays cannot be split until shortly before vaccination commences. The NHS has asked the MHRA to examine whether doses can be removed from trays with a bigger gap before vaccination.
WHO IS IN THE QUEUE?
The over-75s and the over-70s are next in line. People with serious illnesses – those who had to shield during the first wave – will be next, and then over-65s. After that, people with illnesses such as diabetes and asthma. Then the over-60s, over-55s and over-50s.
AND EVERYONE ELSE?
The ‘mass’ phase is due to start at some point in January. The order yet to be finalised, but is likely to be based on occupation. The jab has not been authorised for children under 16 or pregnant women because it is not known if it is safe for them.
IS THERE ENOUGH TO GO ROUND?
The UK has ordered 40million doses from Pfizer – enough to vaccinate 20million people. For everyone to receive a jab the MHRA must approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
HOW WILL I KNOW I CAN GET THE JAB?
You will be contacted by your hospital or your GP, probably via text message or letter.
WHO WILL GIVE ME THE JAB?
Doctors and nurses will lead the vaccination effort, supported by pharmacists, care home staff, volunteers and the Armed Forces. Retired NHS staff have been encouraged to help.
HOW SOON UNTIL I AM SAFE?
Some protection kicks in about 12 days after the first jab is given, but it takes at least four to five weeks for the full effect. There is a gap of three to four weeks between the two doses, and then another week until full protection arrives.
AND HOW LONG WILL I BE PROTECTED FOR?
That is not yet clear, but scientists believe their jab should give at least a year’s protection.
IS IT SAFE?
Yes. The jab has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries. The side-effects were minimal and no safety concerns raised.
WILL IT MEAN AN END TO COVID?
Experts are increasingly confident that, at the very least, the jab will spell an end to Covid restrictions early next year.
Next in line for the new jab: teachers, bus drivers and the Armed Forces
By Ben Spencer, Medical Correspondent for the Daily Mail
Teachers, bus drivers and the Armed Forces could be next in line for a Covid jab once the elderly, the vulnerable and health workers have been vaccinated.
Scientists advising the Government yesterday published their prioritisation list for the new vaccine.
The first phase of the programme will involve vaccinating everyone over the age of 50, along with NHS and care staff, and those with underlying health conditions – the groups that have made up 99 per cent of Covid deaths so far. When that programme is well under way – which could be as soon as January – under-50s will be invited for vaccination.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which drew up the recommendations, said it would be sensible for the Government to prioritise phase two by occupation.
Those who are at increased risk because their job exposes them to the virus should be first in the queue after the vulnerable groups.
The report said: ‘This could include first responders, the military, those involved in the justice system, teachers, transport workers, and public servants essential to the pandemic response.’
The JCVI’s priority list for the first phase of the vaccination programme put care home workers at the top of the list, followed by the over-80s, NHS and care staff, and other elderly people.
Care home residents had been ‘disproportionately affected’ by Covid-19 and ‘should be the highest priority for vaccination’, though the committee conceded there may be logistical problems in delivering the vaccine in these settings and the NHS may have to be flexible in which groups they deliver to first.
The committee also defended the decision not to prioritise the vaccination of ethnic minorities.
The JCVI said their prioritisation list included conditions such as asthma and diabetes, which disproportionately affect ethnic minorities, meaning the most vulnerable members in these communities would be protected.
The advice said only very specific high-risk children should be offered the vaccine, as it is authorised only for over-16s.