How will the storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine affect the programme?
The vaccine must be stored at -70C to be effective, meaning it can only be delivered to GPs with the facilities to keep it at that temperature.
It will be difficult to administer in care homes. Deputy chief medical officer professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “This is a complex product. It is not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in several times.”
The vaccine will be rolled out to elderly residents in care homes with more than 50 registered beds in England within the next few weeks.
It is understood the vaccine batches are being broken down into doses of 75, and the focus over the next fortnight will be on elderly residents and staff in homes with more than 50 beds to avoid wastage.
The Oxford vaccine does not need to be stored in such cold conditions – it can be kept at temperatures between 2C and 8C.
This means it could be more mobile than the Pfizer jab and therefore more easily deployed into care homes of varying sizes and into private homes for individual doses.
Experts believe the Oxford jab will be easier to deploy beyond formal healthcare settings, in part because it does not need to be stored at such cold temperatures as the other approved vaccine.
Will people receive vaccines 24 hours a day?
Boris Johnson has confirmed that round-the-clock vaccine centres will be opened “as soon as we can”. The Prime Minister is currently under pressure by MPs to accelerate the vaccination schedule.
Then, on Jan 17, Sir Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, confirmed that several hospitals will trial 24/7 vaccine centres within the next 10 days.
Early signs of the 24 vaccination programme emerged on Jan 20 when the UK’s vaccine minister announced that the first 24 hour vaccination centre will be trialled in London before the end of the month. Nadhim Zahawi added that he expects the scheme to be in operation in hospitals around London, and 50 vaccination centres, by February.
Additionally, three hospitals in Birmingham will begin offering 24 hour vaccinations for health and social staff from the night of Jan 20.
Offering vaccinations overnight will speed up the rollout, and allow the Government to reach their goal of vaccinating 32 million people – 60 per cent of the UK adult population by spring, which was announced on Jan 11.
What other problems does the vaccination programme face?
Two of the first NHS staff to get the jab suffered allergic reactions and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency warned the vaccine should not be administered to people with a history of ‘significant’ allergic reactions.
Prof Stephen Powis said that this was common for new vaccines and the staff have recovered well.
On Dec 13, news that up to 40 per cent of care home staff may not have jab sparked new fears that the vaccine roll-out may not be successful.
This research, from the National Care Association, suggested that as many as 20 per cent of care workers are adamant they won’t receive the jab. Furthermore, 20 per cent of other care workers are unsure and may follow their example.
Nadra Ahmed, a representative from the charity, revealed that “between about 17 and 20 per cent of staff in-services are saying they definitely won’t have it, and then you have the rest who are waiting to see”.
“So, we are looking at potentially 40 per cent who decide not to have it.”
The progress of the vaccination programme could be held up as retired doctors will still have to fill out 15 forms before being allowed to take part in the mass coronavirus vaccination programme, despite claims from Boris Johnson that red tape had been slashed.
The Prime Minister, told MPs on Jan 6, that he had been assured by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that “all such obstacles and all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
However, after being approached by The Telegraph, the Department of Health and Social Care admitted that only six of the training modules had been removed, leaving 15 different requirements still in place.
Vulnerable people suffering from rare diseases are also being forced to wait for a coronavirus vaccine because of an algorithm used to determine the risks, according to a member of the expert committee that advises the health department.
The QCovid algorithm was used by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to identify who was most likely to die if they catch coronavirus and therefore who should be prioritised in the government’s vaccine roll out.
Although vulnerable people have been given priority in the Government’s vaccine rollout, committee member Jeremy Brown, a professor of respiratory infection at University College London, said the QCovid algorithm was likely to underestimate the risk coronavirus poses to people suffering from rare diseases.
“There are limits to the detail,” said Mr Brown. “The data for cancers is grouped as all cancers rather than different cancers and it is quite likely that some cancers are much more of a problem than others.”
He added that people who are suffering from rare illnesses and have been shielding successfully are also unlikely to show up in the data.
What about the new variant of coronavirus? Will the vaccine still protect us?
The South African variant and the Brazilian variant have threatened to undermine the vaccine and testing gains of recent months.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is expecting some vaccine tweaks to be needed as it has already begun to look at how quickly an altered jab could be approved, and Matt Hancock has said he is “very worried”.
Sir Patrick Vallance said in a press conference on Jan 5 that it is possible the South African coronavirus variant may have some effect on vaccine effectiveness but is unlikely to “abolish” their effect.
The chief scientific adviser said that a possible change in the virus shape in the variant “theoretically gives it a bit more risk of not being recognised” by the immune system.
“There is nothing yet to suggest that’s the case. This is being looked at very actively,” he said.
But on Jan 16, Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said the current vaccines should protect against the strains circulating in the UK.
He told Today: “As we look forward through 2021, we’re going to see lots of new variants and we’re going to have to get used to that.
But he said that new variants were being detected early, and stressed: “If indeed we do need to make new vaccines we will be able to stand those up really quickly.”
However, most promisingly, on Jan 16, The Telegraph exclusively revealed that Britain would have the capacity to vaccinate the entire nation against new coronavirus strains within four months, once a new “super-factory” opens this year.
The factory- which is worth £158m, will produce 70m doses of an emergency vaccine in the UK, Dr Matthew Duchars, chief executive of the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC), shared.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr Duchars revealed: “New Covid variants are absolutely part of the thinking. We probably will need to make seasonal vaccine variants because there may well be mutations in the virus, as well as vaccines for other diseases. You never know what’s coming next.”
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