Last month the UK became the first nation to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use, and the first batches of the vaccine have now arrived in the UK and have started being administered today (December 8). Currently the Government has not secured enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the entire UK population, but it is awaiting approval of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as several others.
Although care home residents are at the front of the queue for the vaccine, there are logistical challenges to rolling out the Pfizer vaccine to care home residents.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at -70C before being thawed out, and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used.
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam suggested people who cannot leave their homes may need to wait for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to become available.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in normal fridge-like temperatures, making it easier to store and transport.
Professor Van-Tam said of the Pfizer jab: “This is one where there are strict rules about the number of times the vaccine can be taken out of the fridge and moved into what we call ambient room temperatures, and so it is going to make it very very difficult, in fact not viable, to take it into individual people’s home if they are house-bound.”
He told BBC Breakfast that if the Government can, they “absolutely will” get the Pfizer jab into care homes, but stated the Oxford vaccine would be easier to roll out than the Pfizer vaccine.
Currently the UK has only approved the Pfizer vaccine for use, and the Government has secured 40 million doses of the vaccine.
As the vaccine is given in two doses, the UK currently has secured enough vaccines for 20 million people.
But the Government has secured 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the UK.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said further Pfizer vaccines are expected to arrive in the UK by the end of 2020, and the UK is still waiting to see if the Oxford vaccine will be approved for further vaccinations to take place in 2021.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will expect more (Pfizer vaccine) by the end of the year but what we have always said is that the bulk of the vaccination programme will take place next year.
“We’ve, of course, got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we’re talking about for deployment right now but AstraZeneca is also being reviewed by the MHRA.
“We’ll see what they pronounce and then, of course, we’ve got 100 million of those on order, and a lot of that is being manufactured – and the fill and finish – in the UK.”
When will the Oxford vaccine be ready?
A date has not yet been set for when or if the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be approved, but there are hopes it will be confirmed before Christmas, adding a further 100 million doses of the vaccine to the UK total.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will have to approve the vaccine before it can be rolled out to the public.
Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will need to pass rigorous health and safety checks before it is recommended for use.
Professor Van-Tam has stated he is hoping the Oxford vaccine will be approved by Christmas.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also told the Sunday Telegraph: “It may come before Christmas, it may come early in the new year.”
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, told the BBC “the intensive process is ongoing”.
Dr Raine added: “We’re working continuously round the clock”.