Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved paving way for Covid-19 campaign

SoR welcomes decision and seeks priority for radiographers

Published: 02 December 2020 Health & safety

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use in the UK and health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that the vaccination programme will begin next week.

The DHSC said the vaccine would be 'made available across the UK from next week' and that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) would publish final advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine shortly.

Speaking to Sky News and the BBC this morning, Mr Hancock confirmed the UK would have 800,000 doses available to begin vaccinations next week.

CEO of SoR Richard Evans welcomed the approval of this first Covid-19 vaccine for UK use: ‘We support a sensibly prioritised roll-out of the programme and will want to see recognition of radiographers as essential healthcare workers when the vaccine is offered to front-line staff.

‘Our concerns will be around the workforce and facilities to deliver vaccination as the programme rolls out. Interruption of clinical services in services already under pressure should be avoided wherever possible.’

The UK is the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The government has 40m doses of the jab on order, with 10m expected to be available before the end of the year.

During a press briefing on Wednesday morning, MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said that the vaccine had been approved following an 'extremely thorough and scientifically rigorous review of all the evidence of safety, of effectiveness and of quality' of the vaccine. She added that 'no corners had been cut' in reviewing the evidence and that scientists and clinicians had been 'working around the clock' to review the data.

The MHRA has also agreed and reviewed the prescribing information for the vaccine so that 'healthcare professionals are very clear and can be very confident that the vaccine is being used in the correct way', Dr Raine said.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicine's Expert Working Group, also revealed that no specific precautions were required on administering the vaccine in people who have previously had Covid-19, and testing for the virus would not be required before receiving the vaccine.

Priority list for vaccination

During the briefing, JCVI chair Professor Wei Shen Lim confirmed that the priority list for those receiving the vaccine would follow the interim advice it issued earlier this year. This puts care home residents and staff in the first priority group, followed by those aged over 80 and healthcare staff.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was shown to be 95% effective at preventing illness from Covid-19 in final results from its phase 3 trial, which also showed it to have a similar efficacy profile across all age ranges, including older people, and ethnic minority groups.

Those vaccinated will require two doses, three weeks apart. However, using the vaccine poses a logistical challenge for the NHS. It needs to be kept at a temperature of -70 degrees Celsius and it only has an effective life of five days when moved to a fridge with a temperature between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius.

The other vaccine likely to be used in the early stages of the vaccination programme is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has also been submitted to the MHRA for approval. The UK has 100m doses of the vaccine on order, with 4m likely to be available before the end of the year.

Interim phase 3 trial data showed that jab to be 70% effective overall, although a subset of the trial which received a half dose of vaccine first, followed by a standard second dose increased efficacy to 90%. A further trial plans to investigate this finding further.

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent MHRA to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use. This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.

'The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.'

Image: Joel Saget / Getty Images