UK gears up to inoculate the country with Covid-19 vaccine

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Healthcare facilities in UK get ready to add vacination stations
Healthcare facilities in UK get ready to add vacination stations

It was announced today that Margeret Keenan, an English grandmother has became the first person to get the new Pfizer/BioNTech jab. The vaccine is being given against Covid-19 to UK citizens in an official national program that will be rolled out across the country. Matt Hancock the Health Secretary named it V-day and Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of a “huge step forward”. (1)

Care home residents and their carers will be in the initial batch of adults to receive notification that they can have the voluntary inoculations this winter. The second group is everyone aged 80 or over and frontline health and social care workers. Thirdly people over 75 will be called and then fourthly those aged over 70 and those who are clinically vulnerable. The pattern will continue with contacting specific age groups in declining order until all over those at 50 years of age have been vaccinated. The Independent estimated the cost of the innovative Pfizer product to be around £15 per person. (2)

Men and women in their 80’s and above who have been identified by medical experts as being some of the most vulnerable in our society have been invited to receive the jab which prevents people from becoming severely unwell with Covid-19. In order to begin the project safely NHS staff who will be giving the medications to the public have also been part of the initial group to get the potentially lifesaving jabs.

It is a ‘game changing’ moment in the fight to contain the pandemic. The vaccine is proven to reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment for life threatening symptoms of coronavirus. The announcement that regulators in the United Kingdom had approved the vaccine which has been developed by the American company in under a year was welcomed by many leaders and professionals as really positive.

The exciting news offers great hope for a better future in a year where 60000 people have died after contracting the contagious pathogen. In addition many businesses and individuals have suffered negative impacts to their lives from the effects of illness, social distancing and the economic fallout caused by the essential lockdown measures.

The BBC stated that 800,000 doses of the vaccine has been confirmed as allocated to the UK. The projected total order is expected to be 40 Million vials. Two visits to the doctor or nurse three weeks apart are necessary to complete the treatment so this will mean there is enough for 20 million adults to obtain full immunity within a month. (3)

Children are not included in the program at this time as statistics show they are not as affected by the disease which is why there is a focus on protecting our oldest and most clinically vulnerable citizens initially and then gradually progressing down the age groups in sequence.

Challenges to the managing the biggest national medical inoculation plan to be carried out since before World War II include the requirement to “store it at -70C and that it comes in packs of 975 doses, which cannot yet be split into smaller batches.” warns BBC Health Correspondent Nick Triggle.

Fifty regional centres will distribute the precious medication over the forthcoming weeks according to government sources. In Sussex and across the British Isles councils are recruiting for drivers, medically experienced assistance and operations managers to deliver the right amount of medicine to the right residents as quickly as possible. “Trained and trainee vaccinators needed urgently in Sussex” says the advert that appeals for applicants to apply now to be part of the “ambitious programme” as “we have a mountain to climb”. (4)

An additional process undertaken by ‘assemblers’ is required to ensure that the ultra frozen Pfizer/BioNTech liquid vials is transported to care homes correctly. Special containers will keep the packs of vaccinations at refrigerator temperature. The chilled pharmaceutical boxes can then be carried to private healthcare residences that look after senior citizens and vulnerable adults ready to be swiftly administered to their residents within 12 hours. (5)

The American pharmaceutical have partnered with the German manufacturer BioNTech. The well known brand explains that they have developed the solution after focusing their development on a type “called an mRNA vaccine. Unlike conventional vaccines, which are produced using weakened forms of the virus, RNA vaccines can be constructed quickly using only the pathogen’s genetic code.” (6)

They continue to describe how “Many standard vaccines work by injecting a dead or weakened form of the pathogen into the body in preparations that are designed not to make you sick but rather to build immunity. The key to building this immunity is that the portion of the pathogen called the antigen trains the immune system to recognise and respond to the infectious agent. RNA vaccines work by introducing into the body a messenger RNA (mRNA) sequence that contains the genetic instructions for the vaccinated person’s own cells to produce the vaccine antigens and generate an immune response.” (7)

Therefore there is no need to be cautious about the speed at which this vaccine has been approved by the regulators, compared to the traditional process which is usually expected to take several years.

Another American company Moderna joins Pfizer in producing approved vaccines that are expected to be part of large-scale government health programs across the Western world this Spring. The number of doses that these companies are aiming to freshly create in 2021 is now running into more than a billion.

It’s possible that in the months after vaccination, the number of antibodies and killer T-cells will drop. But the immune system also contains special cells called memory B-cells and memory T-cells that might retain information about the coronavirus for years or even decades.” advises Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer of The New York Times today. (8)

Mass immunity should result from this amazing scientific work this year, if all goes to plan. It is up to all of us to try and get the protection offered, as soon as we are contacted by our general practitioners. This will mean we can play our part of the national roll out and prevent ourselves becoming sick after catching coronavirus. Vaccinated people enable doctors to focus their limited resources on treating those in hospital who are already sick and those who are living with other life threatening conditions.

The efficacy rate of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is an impressive 95% according to the scientists pioneering the project. It remains to be seen in practice just how long the immunity will last and when a top up jab will be needed, to boost immunity in a few years, or possibly in as much as a dozen years time. Either way, this is a fantastic day of progress in the fight to beat the virus.

(1) ‘Covid-19 vaccine: First person receives Pfizer jab in UK’ BBC News, 8 December 2020 ‘Covid-19 vaccine: First person receives Pfizer jab in UK’ BBC News

(2) ‘Covid vaccine priority list: Who will get Pfizer jab first?’ Kate Nig Independent. 8 December 2020 ‘Covid vaccine priority list: Who will get Pfizer jab first?’ Kate Nig Independent

(3) ‘Covid: UK vaccination programme getting under way’ Nick Triggle, BBC News, 8 December 2020, ‘Covid: UK vaccination programme getting under way’ Nick Triggle, BBC News

(4) ‘Covid-19 Vaccination Programme’, NHS Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, 8 December 2020 ‘Covid-19 Vaccination Programme’, NHS Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

(5) ‘Covid-19: Care home vaccinations to start ‘within two weeks’ 8 December 2020 ‘Covid-19: Care home vaccinations to start ‘within two weeks’

(6) ‘Behind the science: what is an MRNA vaccine?’ Pfizer Vaccines, Pfizer UK, 29th August 2020, ‘Behind the science: what is an MRNA vaccine?’ Pfizer Vaccines UK

(7) ‘How the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Works’ Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer, The New York Times, 8 December 2020 ‘How the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Works’ Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer, The New York Times

(8) ‘Covid-19 vaccine: First person receives Pfizer jab in UK’ BBC News, 8 December 2020 ‘Covid-19 vaccine: First person receives Pfizer jab in UK’ BBC News