After months of severe lockdowns and restrictions due to the Coronavirus outbreak, there’s finally a glimmer of hope! The United Kingdom has finally approved the use of vaccines for COVID-19. Fifty hospitals across the country will serve as initial hubs to administer the shots. More hubs are expected to be designated when more of the ordered doses arrive.
With this breakthrough in medical science also comes a lot of skepticisms about it. Is it really effective? Will it really prevent me from getting Coronavirus in the future?
So, here are the most important facts about the UK's COVID-19 vaccine.
The United Kingdom is the first country to approve large scale COVID-19 immunisation. The UK regulators have approved the emergency-use authorisation of vaccines from two world’s largest pharmaceutical companies — Pfizer and BioNTech.
Other countries such as China, The United States, Russia, and other European countries are expected to release their vaccination approvals within the next few weeks.
The order of getting shots will be according to the priority list. Vulnerable people including those with pre-existing conditions, the elderly over 65 years old, border staff, and healthcare workers will be in the top priority list.
Moreover, the heads of the British Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, both over 90 years old, are expected to get the shot within the next few weeks or before the year ends. This is symbolic as it eliminates any speculations Britons have about the vaccine’s efficacy.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine works with two doses. Britons receiving the vaccine will get two shots with three weeks interval before the doses take effect. According to the clinical trials, this two-dose vaccination process is 95% effective.
This is far beyond the 50% efficacy goal of pharmaceutical firms, which was initially estimated before the trial started. This is also true for other vaccines that are currently at the final stages of their clinical tests.
The UK government has initially ordered 40 million vaccines for 20 million Britons. As of latest reports of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a total of 800,000 of the ordered doses are ready to be distributed by 7 December, and are ready to vaccinate 400,000 throughout the country.
Initially, 10 million doses are estimated to be delivered this year, but nothing’s still definitive according to health secretary Matt Hancock. However, Sean Marett, BioNTech’s chief business officer, said that the UK is likely to receive and distribute 5 million doses before the year ends.
The vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees celsius. For context, this is even colder than the average temperature in Antarctica! This keeps the vaccines effective for about five days out of the laboratory, given it’s maintained at the right temperature.
On the other hand, results from Moderna — another pharmaceutical giant working on COVID vaccine — shows that their doses need to be kept at minus 20 degrees celsius only. In comparison, this is more like the temperature of your average freezer.
Since it needs to be stored at a very low temperature, it may be a challenge to distribute it across the UK. Aside from low temperatures, the vaccines need to be distributed in small batches of 975 doses in deep-frozen packs.
Plus, the vaccine can only be moved out of the fridge four times. Its distribution may pose as a logistical challenge, especially in moving between islands. To address this, the MHRA has implemented different methods to make sure no vaccine is wasted.
Once vaccinated, it will introduce the Sars-CoV-2 protein called “antigen,” into the body. This is a genetic sequence of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) proteins. This will trigger your immune defence system as if you have the real COVID-19 infection.
After getting vaccinated, you’ll likely experience the same symptoms of COVID-19 like fever, dry cough, tiredness, sore throat, and more. After a while, your body will recognise the virus and will fight it off the next.
While the vaccinated person won’t be affected by the virus, they may still be asymptomatic carriers. While Pfizer and BioNTech have shown promising results in clinical trials, nothing is still proven about its efficacy in preventing further transmission. This poses another problem as the vaccinated Britons may be transmitting the virus without them knowing.
To address this, the pharmaceutical giants promise to continue conducting tests while the immunisation initiative is rolling out. They may also conduct further tests on the vaccinated people to gather a larger sample whether the vaccine is effective in preventing transmission.
Studies have shown that Sars-CoV-2 is a relatively stable virus, and won’t likely evolve into a deadlier strain. However, scientists are still not excluding its possibility. In line with this, the current vaccine available in the UK may not be effective if the Novel Coronavirus ever evolves.
Although the vaccine will be rolling out soon, scientists all around the world are still figuring out all the virus itself — from how it started and how effective the current vaccine is. This may answer the questions of the full efficacy of the vaccine if ever Sars-Cov-2 evolves.
The current vaccine has only undergone a few months of its supposed two-year clinical trial period. It still needs to complete several tests before it will be commercially available. As the vaccine is still in its early stages, people who will get the shot will be studied closely. This may involve tracking of any yet-unobserved symptoms during the clinical trial.
Within the three-week timeframe of getting the shots, vaccinated Britons need to take a series of rigorous testing to check for side effects. They also need to keep tabs on their health status through an electronic diary on their smartphones.
New Zealand is one of the first countries who have successfully won the fight against COVID-19. This makes New Zealanders all the more excited about getting the vaccine, especially as Britons are finally getting their shots soon.
The date is still not set in stone, but it’s getting there! Before getting it, take a look at the frequently asked questions about the vaccine.
Through the Advance Purchase Agreements with pharmaceutical companies, New Zealand has agreed to purchase 1.5 million two-dose vaccines Pfizer and BioNTech, and up to 5 million single-dose vaccines from Janssen Pharmaceutica.
Altogether, it’s estimated to vaccinate 5.75 million Kiwis, which is more than enough for the population of all of New Zealand.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 minister Chris Hipkins urges Kiwis to extend their patience a little longer. He stated that the country may not need to fast-track the approval of the vaccine just like what the UK did. Unlike the UK where hundreds of people still die from the virus every day, NZ has slowed down the pace of local transmission, so mortality rates are low.
Experts also agree with the government’s decision to wait for further test results before the large-scale immunisation of Kiwis. Still, minister Hipkins assures Kiwis that they’re gearing up for the arrival and the mass distribution of the vaccine.
As of now, there’s no specific date on when the vaccine will roll out across New Zealand. What’s certain is the government is planning on a wide range of potential deployments in 2021. The government also assures Kiwis that the vaccine will be certified by Medsafe as the public’s safety and health is always the top priority.
For now, it’s still best to be extra careful and follow health precautionary measures set by the government. This includes practising physical distancing, wearing masks, tracking the places you visited, and disinfecting whenever possible.
It’s also important to stay updated about the news of vaccine roll-out in New Zealand. Secure a fast and reliable broadband connection so you never miss out on the latest happenings about the COVID-19 situation in the country.
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