The priority list for the Pfizer vaccine


The priority list for the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines

How will the storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine affect the programme?

The vaccine must be stored at -70°C 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 follows a pilot which started on Dec 16 where the jab was taken to residents and staff in a small number of care homes, believed to be seven homes.

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.

NHS England would not say how many residents or care homes have received doses as part of last week’s pilot, but called the initial rollout a “significant step”.

The Scottish Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, has insisted they will deliver the vaccine to care home residents in Scotland before Dec 14, stating that her talks with Pfizer had revealed the vaccine can be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours.

However, 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.

Read more: How the UK will get Pfizer’s Covid vaccine from factory to patient

What other problems does the vaccination programme face?

On Dec 13, news that up to 40 per cent of care home staff may not have jab sparked new fears that the vaccine rollout 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.”

In a press conference on Dec 30, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van Tam said that although people receiving the vaccine would be protected, he could not provide assurance they would not still “pose a hazard” to others in terms of passing on the virus.

“We will know quite quickly within a couple of months the impact of these vaccines on reducing severe illness in the population,” he said.

“We don’t know if the vaccines will reduce transmission but Public Health England have their finger on the pulse.”

What about the new variant of coronavirus? Will the vaccine still protect us against this?

On Dec 14, in his address to Commons the Health Secretary announced a new strain of coronavirus has been identified in England.

However, Mr Hancock has said it is “highly unlikely” that the new variant will cause a more serious disease or compromise the vaccine. 

In his address to the Commons, he shared: “I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”

The chief executive of BioNTech says the German pharmaceutical company is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the UK variant, but further studies are need to be completely sure.

Ugur Sahin said on Dec 22 that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” but because the proteins on the variant are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.

Mr Sahin said BioNTech is currently conducting further studies and hopes to have certainty within the coming weeks.

“The likelihood that our vaccine works … is relatively high.” But if needed, “we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks,” he added.

On Dec 28, Sage advisor, Sir Jeremy Farrar, announced his concerns that one million Covid-19 vaccinations a week would still not be enough to bring the pandemic under control. 

Mr Farrar said: “We’re not going to be free of this pandemic by February; this is now a human endemic infection.

“If we do manage to hit the target of a million [vaccinated] a week, frankly I don’t think that’s enough to speed that up if we wanted to get the country covered.”

Prof Van Tam stated on Dec 30 that it would take up to two weeks for scientists to confirm the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines were effective against the new strains of Covid-19.

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