All you need to know about UK Covid-19 vaccine? It’s no longer news that UK regulators have authorised a covid-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech for emergency use, meaning that vaccine rollout is planned to begin soon.
Here, we answer questions about the science of the vaccine, who will get it first, how confident we can be in the authorisation process and the logistics of vaccinating everyone in the UK.
All You Need To Know About UK Covid-19 Vaccine
How Effective Is The Vaccine?
Despite some claims from critics that the vaccine was rushed, the effectiveness is about 95 per cent.
However, the phase 3 trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine involved 42,000 people, about half of whom got the experimental vaccine and the rest a placebo.
In total, 170 people fell ill with covid-19. Only eight of them were in the vaccine group; 162 had received the placebo.
So around 5 per cent of cases were in the vaccine group, which is where the 95 per cent figure comes from.
That is a very healthy number: the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it would be happy even with 50 per cent.
What Is In The Vaccine?
The active ingredient is messenger RNA (mRNA) that carries instructions for making the virus’s spike protein, which it uses to gain entry to cells.
The mRNA is synthetic, not extracted from actual viruses. It is delivered in a tiny sphere of inert fatty material called a lipid nanoparticle.
How Long Does The Immune Memory Last?
It’s hard to say at this point, because the clinical trials weren’t set up to answer that question, and in any case, they only began dispensing second doses of the vaccine four months ago.
The WHO says that a minimum of six months would be acceptable. It will become clearer as time marches on and the volunteers continue to be monitored.
How Long Does It Take For Immunity To Develop Fully After Vaccination?
The trial began assessing immunity seven days after the second shot. We know that protective immunity builds up within four weeks of the first dose, but Uğur Şahin, the chief executive of the small German company BioNTech that co-developed the vaccine with US drug giant Pfizer, says that it appears to develop earlier than that. Further details will be published in a matter of days, he says.
What Happens To The mRNA In The Body?
It is active for a few days then decays rapidly. It’s a two-shot vaccine, so what happens if people miss their second shot? Is a single shot still protective?
Two shots are needed, and the second shot is required to attain immunity. The gap between doses in the trial ranged between 19 and 42 days.
Only 2 per cent of people in the trial missed their second dose so it isn’t entirely clear what happens under those circumstances.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Sometimes, but they are mild. In the trial, the vaccine was generally well-tolerated, and an independent data monitoring committee reported no serious safety concerns.
The worst side effects were fatigue and headaches after the second dose.
Does It Work In Older People?
Yes. Trial participants were aged up to 85, and the efficacy in people over 65 was 94 per cent – a tiny bit lower than the overall number but still very protective, and much higher than some vaccine experts feared.
Meanwhile, the vaccine hasn’t been tested in people aged over 85.
What About Other Vulnerable Groups?
The vaccine appears to be equally effective regardless of recipients’ age, sex and ethnicity, according to BioNTech.
It has been tested extensively in people who have already had the virus and doesn’t cause any ill effects.
It has also been tested in people with “stable” pre-existing conditions – also known as comorbidities – including diabetes, cancer, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and well-managed HIV. Their response was as good as anyone else’s.
People with serious or worsening comorbidities will also be eligible for the vaccine. BioNTech says it has data on this group and will release it in a matter of days.
All you need to know about UK Covid-19 vaccine? Does It Protect Everyone?
No. In the trials, out of about 20,000 people who were given the vaccine, eight caught covid-19 and one became seriously ill.
In contrast, 164 people who received the placebo fell ill, nine severely. It isn’t known why some people didn’t respond to the vaccine.
But a success rate of 95 per cent is about as good as it gets with any vaccine.
All you need to know about UK Covid-19 vaccine? Does It Stop People From Catching And Transmitting The Virus?
We still don’t know. The trial was designed to test for symptomatic covid-19 and confirmed infection with the virus.
Assessing whether the vaccine prevents transmission – which is probably a prerequisite for attaining vaccine-induced herd immunity – is much harder.
But Pfizer says it is carrying out more studies on this important question and will release information soon.
Some vaccines can paradoxically make a disease worse through a process called antibody-enhanced disease. Is that a risk?
Yes, theoretically. But it hasn’t been seen with this vaccine or any other against covid-19, and hasn’t occurred naturally, as sometimes happens with other viruses.
Has The Full Data From The Trial Been Published Yet?
No, it hasn’t, but there is nothing sinister about that. Companies can release news to the market as soon as they have it, which is a much speedier process than preparing a scientific manuscript.
According to Pfizer, every last detail of the science will be submitted to a top-ranking peer-reviewed journal as soon as it is ready.
It will then be up to the journal how long it takes to publish.
Who Is First In The Queue In The UK?
When a vaccine is approved it is customary to first offer it to people who took part in the clinical trial but received the placebo. (A placebo is anything that seems to be a “real” medical treatment but isn’t).
However, as the trial wasn’t done in the UK, there is nobody in this category.
Care home residents and their carers have the highest priority, according to a priority system devised by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
But there are problems with delivering this particular vaccine to care home residents because it needs to be transported at very cold temperatures in special cases that carry around 1000 doses.
These cases cannot be broken up for distribution, which makes it very hard to get the required doses into individual care homes.
Next in line are people aged over 80 and frontline healthcare workers, followed by people aged over 75, then people in increasingly younger age groups and/or with underlying health conditions.
Will Anyone Be Excluded From The Vaccine Programme?
Yes. Pregnant women and children under 16 won’t be eligible, at least at first. The vaccine hasn’t been tested on pregnant women or children under 12, and there isn’t enough data on children age 12 to 15.
But trials in those groups are ongoing or planned.
We believe that with time, many countries will be encouraged to purchase the Covid-19 vaccine despite the conspiracy theories flying around against it.
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