NI Covid experts: The approval of a vaccine helps us to look to the future with optimism

Vaccines have changed our world, write PROFESSOR IAN YOUNG and DR MICHAEL McBRIDE.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 12:21 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 1:26 am
Professor Ian Young, Northern Ireland's chief scientific officer
Professor Ian Young, Northern Ireland's chief scientific officer

They have been successfully deployed against a wide range of diseases including smallpox, polio, measles and flu. They have saved many millions of lives.

So the confirmation of the UK’s first regulatory approval for a Covid-19 vaccine is hugely significant.

The decision by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has only been taken after rigorous assessment of both safety and effectiveness.

Dr Michael McBride, Northern Ireland's chief medical officer

The decision on the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was made with advice from the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), the government’s independent expert scientific advisory body.

As the MHRA has emphasised strongly, public safety has always been the overriding priority. It is important to stress that the MHRA is globally recognised for requiring high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness for any vaccine.

The pace at which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed is unprecedented. That’s a reflection of the global emergency which the virus caused – and the scale of the response from scientists, supported by massive public and private investment.

We were already living in an age of unparalleled and rapid technological advancement. The scientific community has just raised the bar even further.

Professor Ian Young, who is Northern Ireland’s chief scientific advisor, centre, and Dr Michael McBride, the chief medical officer, with the health minister Robin Swann

A number of other Covid-19 vaccines are at various stages of development, while another is currently being considered by MHRA.

An unprecedented vaccination programme can now begin, involving a massive logistical exercise that will span many months. Each person receiving the vaccination will require two doses.

Strict conditions on vaccine deployment will be set by the MHRA, while the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) will guide on which population groups should receive the vaccine first. The roll-out will take up a large part of 2021.

Health and social care staff – including care home staff – are expected to be among the first priority groups. So too will care home residents.

The JCVI recognises there will have to be some flexibility in terms of operational constraints, due to the characteristics of individual vaccines.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine poses particular logistical challenges and is likely to be best suited to large scale vaccination centres. Forthcoming alternative vaccines should be more suitable for mobile unit deployment to individual care homes.

Our advice to the public is to look to the future with a mixture of optimism, determination and patience.

The vaccine programme will take time and we will all have to wait our turn, as priority groups are given their place.

As we do so, we must all redouble our efforts against the spread of the virus. Please keep following public health advice – this is just as essential now as it was when we first heard the word Coronavirus.

2020 has been an incredibly difficult year and the first half of 2021 will require more sacrifice and more disruption to our daily lives.

We can get through this if we all keep doing the right thing – to look after each other and protect the health service.

Better times are ahead – let’s get there together.

• Professor Ian Young is Northern Ireland’s chief scientific advisor and Dr Michael McBride is chief medical officer

• See Morning View, opposite

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