The U.K. Has Approved a Vaccine. Here’s What Happens Next

The U.K. Has Approved a Vaccine. Here’s What Happens Next

December 2, 2020

Now that Britain has become the first western country toapprove a Covid-19 shot, the spotlight shifts to the high-stakes rollout. Vaccinating the country’s roughly 67 million people won’t happen overnight. The U.K. has ordered enough doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to immunize 20 million people.

Who will get the vaccine first?

The government will prioritize as it begins to deploy the vaccine, starting with residents and staff in care homes, then moving to people over 80 years old and health-care workers, documents show.

Britain will immunize people throughout the wider population next, based on age and risk. The shot is expected to be available from next week.

Where can people get it?

In the U.K., 50 hospitals are ready to administer the vaccine, followed by doctors and pharmacists, assuming they have the facilities needed to store the doses, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sky News Wednesday.

The country has moved to expand the pool of people who can give the jabs beyond the National Health Service to other health professionals.

Where is the vaccine at the moment?

The vaccine is still at Pfizer’s production site in Puurs, Belgium. The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said the doses will be made available across the U.K. starting next week.

Can I get more than one vaccine?

Not for now. The U.K. only cleared the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech, although a product using a similar technology fromModerna Inc. may also get approved soon.

It may become possible to mix shots when other vaccines are approved. That should work for shots that target the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, according to Andrew Pollard, who is leading the University of Oxford’s vaccine trial withAstraZeneca Plc. The three front-runners use the spike protein as a target, as do many others in clinical tests.

How does the approved vaccine compare with others?

The product relies on a technology called messenger RNA, which has never been used to make approved vaccines before. So does Moderna’s. Both showed they were more than 90% effective in clinical trials. The approach is designed to transform the body’s own cells into vaccine-making factories.

The main difference is that the Pfizer-BioNTech product must be stored ultra-cold until a few days before it is used. Moderna’s vaccine is stable at refrigerator temperatures for 30 days. Astra-Oxford’s jab importantly can be kept at refrigerator temperatures.

How do we know the vaccine is safe?

Pfizer and BioNTech tested the product in a clinical trial involving almost 44,000 people without observing severe side effects. The most common symptoms were fatigue and headaches.

The U.K. regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said on Wednesday that the vaccine “met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.” Hancock described the review as having been “rigorous,” not rushed.

Monitoring safety will be one of thebiggest challenges once shots are rolled out widely, Emer Cooke, the new head of the European Medicines Agency, said in an interview last month.

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