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UK gets COVID-19 vax as government approves Pfizer/BioNTech jab

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has today been approved for use in the UK, following a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) announced today (December 2) that the government has accepted the MHRA recommendation to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with rollout expected to start from next week.

The vaccine was given the green light after “rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA”, who have determined that the vaccine meets the regulatory body’s “standards of safety, quality and effectiveness”, a DH spokesperson said.

“The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination,” they added.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said today that the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was “an important next step in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“The NHS has a proven track record of delivering large scale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to Bacillus Calmette-Guérin”, he said, adding that “once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in England’s hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a programme that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months”.

Pharmacy teams among priority groups

The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) published its finalised advice to the UK government today, detailing its conclusions on which groups should be prioritised for vaccination.

While the committee stated that older adult resident in care homes “should be the highest priority for vaccination”, along with care home staff, it confirmed that this cohort should be followed by health and social care staff, as it had anticipated in its interim advice issued on September 25.

“The Committee considers frontline health and social care workers who provide care to vulnerable people a high priority for vaccination. Protecting them protects the health and social care service and recognises the risks that they face in this service,” JCVI said in the document published today.

The JCVI advised that certain health and social care workers should be prioritised for vaccination – such as those at “high risk of acquiring infection, at high individual risk of developing serious disease, or at risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a healthcare environment”.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee announced last month (November 10) that NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) had confirmed that community pharmacy teams will get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other health and social care workers.

Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) director of operations Matt Barclay told C+D on November 12 that CPS understands that pharmacy teams will be included “as part of the health and social care rollout of any programme” in Scotland.

The JCVI interim advice is likely to indicate the priority order in Northern Ireland as well, a Department of Health told C+D last month (November 12).

COVID-19 vaccination programme and community pharmacy

A “limited number” of pharmacies in England will be asked to offer COVID-19 vaccinations from late December, NHSE&I announced last month (November 27). Other ways for pharmacies in England to contribute to the programme will be through collaboration with their primary care network or vaccination centres.

A similar approach has been adopted in Scotland, where community pharmacies will not be the “default” option through which the COVID-19 vaccination programme will be delivered but could be commissioned by health boards to take part into the programme where needed.

Healthcare professionals involved in the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine will need to complete training, some of which they can do remotely by accessing a Public Health England e-learning module.

Which COVID-19 vaccines has the UK government secured access to?

The government has so far secured access to more than 350 million vaccines doses, including:

  • 100 million doses of University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – phase 3 clinical trials
  • 40 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – approved for UK use
  • 60 million doses of Novavax vaccine – phase 3 clinical trials
  • 60 million doses of Valneva vaccine – pre-clinical trials
  • 60 million doses of GSK/Sanofi Pasteur vaccine – phase 1 clinical trials
  • 30 million doses of Janssen vaccine – phase 2 clinical trials
  • 5 million doses of Moderna vaccine – phase 3 clinical trials

Source: Department of Health and Social Care

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