Why the vaccine program is the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel

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Light through corridor St Helier Jersey Art Museum photo by A Howse
Light through corridor St Helier Jersey Art Museum photo by A HowseLight through corridor St Hellier Jersey Art Museum

The vaccine program currently being rolled out in England is part of Boris Johnson and his government’s plan to break the cycle of lockdowns we are currently experiencing. This massive project is due to the high number of coronavirus cases we have across the nation.

The vaccine will protect older and more vulnerable people in our society

When older and vulnerable people in our society have all received the vaccine we can be more confident that Covid-19 will be unlikely to cause severe illness. Mass immunisation will avoid citizens getting so sick that that may need hospitalisation and possibly intensive care. This will give us all the freedom to start safely meeting up again in the near future when the number of cases of the disease has fallen to much lower levels than we have in this country today. This month frontline medical staff in England are also being given the vital jab to protect them and their families against becoming extremely ill with Covid-19.

The vaccines are medically approved and are here in the UK now

The UK government ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech inoculation after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the vaccine for use in the UK in the first week of December 2020. (1) The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has also been approved for use. The Pfizer/BioNTech product requires refrigeration at ultra low temperatures. The advantage of The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is that it is comparatively easy to transport and deliver.

People will be invited to receive a vaccine in order of priority this spring, summer and autumn

The Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have advised a ranked prioritisation of the vaccine. This means that care home residents and their carers have been the first to receive the jab. Those over 70 years of age including clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are being called to make appointments for their shots by their GP clinic administrators this month. Over 7 million adults in England have now been vaccinated.

The next groups to join the vaccinators queue over the next few weeks will be those aged over 65 and then everyone over 16 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality. Clinically high risk groups include those with respiratory heart, kidney, liver, neurological disease and diabetes. Those with immunosuppressant disorders, morbid obesity, severe mental illness and those with learning disabilities in care or with sickle cell disease are amongst those who will be prioritised as clinically at risk.

Then the remaining age groups in increments of 5 years will be offered the jab until all men and women over 18 have been given the option to protect themselves from the severe effects of Covid-19.

The vaccines can protect people from the new Covid-19 virus strains

Experts believe that the Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines which are currently available will help protect recipients from all the strains of Covid in the UK at the moment. New variants such as the Brazil and South Africa versions have prompted scientists to begin “adapting their existing vaccines to increase the (vaccines) efficacy against the variant. The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Oxfordshire, begins manufacturing an approved vaccine at massive scale.”

The Telegraph reported today that Moderna announced that its “Covid-19 vaccine produced virus neutralising antibodies against new coronavirus variants found in the UK and South Africa.” (3) It is common practice to produce a new flu jab each year to protect against the most recently developed strains of influenza. In the same way it is anticipated that small scientific modifications over the coming months will ensure that the Covid-19 vaccines give excellent levels of protection against the latest strains, as the virus continues to evolve.

The vaccine will minimise the impact of transmission by asymptomatic people carrying Covid-19 unknowingly

As about 20% of patients remain asymptomatic throughout an infection it is very hard to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the general population. This is because it is not possible to detect if a person is sick with the contagion without a medical test.

Therefore getting the vaccine when it is offered is a way of protecting any adult while they are carrying out their normal daily activities from inadvertently catching the pathogen and becoming so sick they might need treatment in a hospital with a respirator. “Progression of disease, multiple organ failure and death will occur in some individuals” says the UK government’s report outlining the facts about the virus and the vaccines. (2)

The vaccine can protect people from all ethnic groups

The number of people in England who have sadly died with Covid-19 increases tenfold in the age groups over 45 years. The figures show that men are more susceptible becoming gravely ill with the infection and those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups are disproportionately negatively affected. So if you are in your middle years or older or of BAME ethnicity it is especially important to book an appointment for the jab when you are contacted by your local surgery. Thankfully it is extraordinarily rare for children to contract the new coronavirus and become extremely ill.

The vaccines have been tested rigorously and meet the highest safety standards

After more than more than 50,000 people tested the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine it was demonstrated that those over 16 years received a 95% efficacy rate once they had received their second dose. We can be confident of the safety of these carefully developed medical solutions. The new Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca preparations are based on all the knowledge and expertise gained by scientists when successfully developing vaccines for many other diseases such as Ebola and other SARS epidemics.

Out of the 7 million adults now vaccinated there have been very few problems. “There was no signal to suggest that prior vaccination led to enhanced disease with only 1 case of severe COVID-19 in the 8 vaccine failures.” There have been a few people who already had a medical history of severe allergic reactions who have been adversely affected by the latest vaccination against Covid-19. The government experts recommend considering using the AstraZeneca option for people with a high level of allergic sensitivity as it is a more suitable option in this case. The patient’s doctor would be able to advise them further in this rare situation. (2)

The vaccines cleverly utilise the body’s natural immune system to create protection against the Covid-19 virus

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine uses the pathogen’s genetic code to program host cells in the body with a spike protein which stimulates an immune response against the viral invader. The vaccine is designed to be administered in 2 doses a minimum of 21 days apart.

Tests of 11,000 people showed that receiving 1 AstraZeneca dose provides 10.4% protection against severe disease. This vaccine is designed to be administered in 2 doses a minimum of 28 days apart. “AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine uses a replication deficient chimpanzee adenovirus (ChAd) as a vector to deliver the full-length SARS-CoV2 spike protein genetic sequence into the host cell…this then leads to translation of the target protein which acts as an intracellular antigen.” (2)

A more detailed explanation on how the vaccines work can be found in the government’s Greenbook publication below (2).

Administering the vaccine is simple, quick and relatively painless

A simple injection into the upper arm with a fine needle is all that is needed. The UK government aims to ensure that everyone has a vaccination centre within 10 miles of their home. This month senior officials are working closely with the NHS, Armed Forces, Asda and Boots and other private pharmaceutical companies to provide convenient facilities for residents all over the country. (3)

The vaccines are classified as safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women

The way that the vaccines work in the body means that they are safe to be used by expectant mothers and ladies who are breastfeeding. “Since inactivated vaccines cannot replicate, they cannot cause infection in either the mother or the fetus.” However because of the newness of the immunisation to be on the cautious side doctors are recommending that women complete their pregnancy before booking an initial or if appropriate second vaccination appointment.

Vaccine protection starts after 2 weeks and lasts for at least several months

The immune system takes time to generate a response to the vaccine so 12-14 days after the jab is when protection starts. Medical researchers are looking at the data so far from all the vaccines already given. The experts are still yet to confirm for how long the vaccines give protection from Covid-19. Current reports indicate this barrier to infection lasts for at least several months. Health officials expect a repeat vaccination may be offered in time, perhaps even annually. The British Heart Foundation advises that “The second dose is more important for longer-lasting protection, so it’s really important to go back for your second dose when you are invited for it.” (4)

The vaccines help to protect the community

All the vaccines that are available today prevent individuals from getting extremely sick with the disease. Therefore it is logical that vaccinated people can prevent the spread of the disease as they will be less likely to become sick and then unintentionally spread their germs to others. In this way communities with vulnerable people who are medically unable to have the vaccine themselves, for whatever reason, will be protected by others who have had their jabs.

The vaccines do not contain any animal products and are approved by religious leaders.

The Church of England and the Catholic church have approved the vaccine on moral and ethical grounds. The BBC have reported this week that Muslim leaders from the British Islamic Medical Association recommend the currently available vaccines and have confirmed they are halal. Jewish leaders are also advising their communities to have the vaccine and Pfizer, Oxford and Moderna vaccines have already been used extensively in Israel to vaccinate the population there. (4)

When it come to vaccines the more the merrier 

“The more people getting vaccinated means the greater a success it will be.” says Sam Wood at the University of Kent. (5) All vaccination programs work by creating a ‘herd immunity’ through the process of immunising as many people as possible.

The light at the end of the tunnel

This week the UK reached the grim milestone of losing more than 100,000 of its citizens to Covid-19. The next few months will inevitably see many more, much loved family members die too soon because of the health complications that can occur especially in older adults after contracting the virus. However there is now hope on the horizon that we will be able to minimise the impact of this awful contagion. When mass immunisation has occurred then a few weeks later it makes sense that the Prime Minister will feel confident enough to approve the cautious easing of the current lockdown. Then the country can begin to return to a new normal and economic recovery. (6)

It is likely that some restrictions will still be in place after Easter and possibly for a year or more in the future. We will all need to be vigilent and follow set procedures when meeting in person for example. However if all goes to plan around 15 million British people will have been immunised and the pressure on the NHS services will be decreased to much more manageable levels in March.

Consequently with the warning that case rates will have to continue to drop and the data will need to be carefully monitored, The Prime Minister announced today that “the Government will provide its plan to bring the country out of lockdown on Feb 26.” (7) If all goes according to plan children will be able to go back to school in March. For a lot of families that is definately some much needed light at the end of the tunnel.

(1) ‘Everything you need to know about the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme’ Carolyn Wickware, The Pharmaceutical Journal, 11 Jan 2021 ‘Everything you need to know about the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme’ Carolyn Wickware, The Pharmaceutical Journal

(2) Greenbook Chapter 14a Covid-19 – SARS-CoV-2, Gov.UK, 25 January 2021 Greenbook Chapter 14a Covid-19 – SARS-CoV-2, Gov.UK

(3) ‘8 reasons the UK leads Europe’s coronavirus vaccination race.’ Christina Gallardo, 14 January 2021 ‘8 reasons the UK leads Europe’s coronavirus vaccination race.’ Christina Gallardo, Politico

(4) ‘Heart Matters’ British Heart Foundation, 27 January 2021 ‘Vaccine Questions Answered – Heart Matters’ British Heart Foundation

(5) ‘Ten reasons why you should get a Covid-19 vaccine, Sam Wood, University of Kent, 10 December 2020 ‘Ten reasons why you should get a Covid-19 vaccine, Sam Wood, University of Kent

(6) ‘Covid-19 variants: Are new mutations more deadly, and will vaccines work against them?’ Paul Nuki Global Health Security Editor, Anne Gullard, Jennifer Rigby, Sarah Newey, The Telegraph, 27 January 2021 ‘Covid-19 variants: Are new mutations more deadly, and will vaccines work against them?’ The Telegraph

(7) ‘England’s lockdown rules – and when restrictions could end.” Jordan Kelly-Linden, Chris Graham, Lucy Fisher, Harry Yorke and Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, 27 January 2021 ‘England’s lockdown rules – and when restrictions could end.” Jordan Kelly-Linden, The Telegraph