The UK has become the first country in Europe to approve and license a Covid vaccine, which will start rolling out some time next week
The vaccine was developed by pharmaceutical company Pfizer in collaboration with tech firm, BioNTech.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The government has today accepted the recommendation from the 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.
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“The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation will shortly also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable. The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.”
Who will get the vaccine first?
Once the vaccine begins to be rolled out in the UK, different groups will be prioritised access to it, based on their levels of risk.
Chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Wei Shen Lim, said that while priority groups may change, the first group to receive the vaccine will be care home residents and workers.
The vaccine will then be available to different age groups from the over 80s to over 60’s, with the oldest groups as the highest priority.
Adults with underlying conditions will be prioritised next, slightly above the over 50’s.
These groups will make up phase one of the vaccinations, which if completed, experts say will mean that “over 99% of those individuals who are at risk of dying from Covid-19" will be protected.
No final decisions have been made on the order of priority beyond this phase.
Professor Wei Shen Lim said: “We will keep going down the age bands to individuals who are 50 and above. That describes phase 1 which is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable. We have not decided yet on who else should be vaccinated beyond phase 1.”
The JCVI has examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from coronavirus and who is at highest risk of death.
Its interim guidance says the order of priority should be:
Older adults in a care home and care home workersAll those aged 80 and over and health and social care workers, though they may move up the listAnyone 75 and overPeople aged 70 and overAll those aged 65 and overHigh-risk adults under 65Moderate-risk adults under 65All those aged 60 and overAll those 55 and overAll those aged 50 and overThe rest of the population, with priority yet to be determined.
Is the vaccine safe?
The vaccine has been tested on more than 43,000 people in six countries, with no safety concerns raised.
The UK government was the first to strike an agreement for the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and has ordered 40 million doses, including 10 million which are due by the end of December pending regulatory approval.
In order for the vaccine to be effective people will need to take two doses, meaning the UK will not have enough for everyone.
However, more vaccine trials are likely to be announced in the coming months and are expected to produce good results.
How does the vaccine work?
The type of vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNtech is known as messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.
Unlike conventional vaccines, mRNAs do not use a weakened version of the virus to stimulate immunity, but use the virus’ genetic code instead.
Once the mRNA vaccine is injected, it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.
These antigens are recognised by the immune system and help it to prepare to fight off coronavirus.
Because mRNAs do not use the virus in their production, this means the vaccines can be produced much faster and cheaper than a conventional vaccine.
Some experts believe they are safer for patients, as they do not contain the virus.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister publication, The Scotsman.