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Coronavirus UK: Military carry out dry run for Britain’s biggest-ever vaccination programme

The full list of hospitals where Pfizer jabs will be given to the first British recipients were revealed last night as the UK military carried out dry-run drills for the country’s biggest-ever mass vaccination.

Fifty trusts are poised to roll out  Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine when the first of 40 million doses are administered from next week, with 13 in the Midlands, eight are in the North West, South East and South West, seven are in the East of England and London, and only one in each of Yorkshire and the North East regions.  

The Army held a trial run at one of the first mass vaccination sites where tens of thousands of patients will be immunised after NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens told a Downing street press conference yesterday that the logistics of getting the vaccine out to people will be ‘complicated’.

Care homes were told they will have to wait because the stock can’t be broken down into batches smaller than 975 at a time. The vaccine, which must be kept at -70°C (-94°F) until shortly before it is used, means storage must meticulously controlled for the entire distribution and storage process. 

Such stringent requirements mean hospitals equipped with ultra-cold freezers have been called upon to act as ‘hubs’ where the first people will receive jabs.  

The drill, code-named Exercise Panacea, took place at Ashton Gate football and rugby stadium in Bristol. Approximately seven regional hubs will be used to vaccinate the wider population as GP surgeries target at-risk patients and hospitals are used to immunise NHS and care home staff, as well as some patients.  

The Government and NHS will have to get extra permission from the MHRA to break the vaccine supplies down into smaller batches that could then be handed out to care homes to give to their residents. It is not yet clear how long this might take, but Sir Simon said most of the vaccinations would be given out in 2021, not this year.  

In yesterday’s exercise 30 staff and volunteers were looped through the building pretending to be different types of patients, from one suffering an adverse reaction to one with symptoms or one who won’t get the jab.

It is planned that vaccinations will be given at the stadium 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Other venues being prepared to be used as regional hubs include the Nightingale Hospital at London’s ExCeL Centre, Leicester Racecourse and Manchester Tennis and Football Centre.  

The NHS is expecting to immunise between 75,000 and 110,000 people a week at the stadium and other local facilities in Bristol and neighbouring North Somerset and South Gloucestershire between now and April.

The drill yesterday follows an earlier ‘live play field exercise’ code-named Exercise Asclepius that took place at Epsom Downs Racecourse in October to ‘gauge the capabilities’ of mass vaccination centres.   

Initial batches of the Pfizer jab are already heading to Britain after a clinical trial suggested it was 95 per cent effective. It will be distributed at hospitals first, then GP surgeries and cities via stadiums and conference centres. 

In other coronavirus news: 

  • Britain recorded another drop in daily Covid-19 deaths after officials announced 648 more victims;
  • England’s deputy medical officer said that people may continue to wear face masks after the pandemic ends; 
  • Organised criminal gangs may capitalise on the approval of the new Covid vaccine by stealing supplies to sell on or peddling fake doses, Interpol warned;
  • Comparisons between Pfizer’s vaccine and the Thalidomide scandal are ‘insulting’, a charity warned after the birth defect-causing drug began trending on Twitter in the wake of Britain approving the jab;
  • Supermarket giant Iceland’s boss told No10 it ‘stands ready’ to help the UK deliver the Covid vaccine, saying the firm’s ‘cold chain expertise’ may be helpful in local distribution of the jab;
  • Teachers, soldiers, and bus drivers could be first in line for a Covid vaccine once all over-50s and ‘at-risk’ Britons are protected, JCVI guidance suggests; 
  • Matt Hancock claims Brexit helped Britain become first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine ‘because European regulators were moving too slowly’; 
  • Britain may still need a circuit breaker lockdown in January or February – despite roll-out of Pfizer’s 95 per cent effective jab beginning next week, top scientist warns; 
  • The MHRA was so keen to approve Pfizer’s Covid vaccine that it responded to emails within ten minutes, according to Pfizer’s vice president for medical and scientific affairs; 
  • NHS workers in Leicester have received an email confirming Leicester racecourse will be transformed into a vaccination hub ‘as soon as the government says go’.

The full list of hospitals where Pfizer jabs will be given to the first British recipients were revealed last night as the UK military carried out dry-run drills for the country's biggest-ever mass vaccination

The full list of hospitals where Pfizer jabs will be given to the first British recipients were revealed last night as the UK military carried out dry-run drills for the country’s biggest-ever mass vaccination 

The drill, code-named Exercise Panacea, took place at Ashton Gate football and rugby stadium in Bristol

The drill, code-named Exercise Panacea, took place at Ashton Gate football and rugby stadium in Bristol

In yesterday's exercise 30 staff and volunteers were looped through the building pretending to be different types of patients, from one suffering an adverse reaction to one with symptoms or one who won't get the jab

In yesterday’s exercise 30 staff and volunteers were looped through the building pretending to be different types of patients, from one suffering an adverse reaction to one with symptoms or one who won’t get the jab

Pfizer's 'freezer farm' - a warehouse the size of a football pitch that is storing finished Covid vaccines in Puurs, Belgium

Pfizer’s ‘freezer farm’ – a warehouse the size of a football pitch that is storing finished Covid vaccines in Puurs, Belgium

To keep doses of the jab at this ultra-low temperature, they needs to be packaged with dry ice and placed in a special transport box the size of a suitcase (an example currently in Belgium is pictured)

To keep doses of the jab at this ultra-low temperature, they needs to be packaged with dry ice and placed in a special transport box the size of a suitcase (an example currently in Belgium is pictured) 

Britain recorded another drop in daily Covid-19 deaths after officials announced 648 more victims

Britain recorded another drop in daily Covid-19 deaths after officials announced 648 more victims

Doses – which have to be packed in dry ice – are coming from Belgium to a central warehouse in the UK, from which they will be sent to NHS hospitals around the country. 

But there is growing confusion about which groups will get the first doses. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published its Covid-19 priority list yesterday, advising that care home residents and the staff who treat them should be the first in line to be inoculated.

However, officials warned they couldn’t promise care homes would get the vaccine before anyone else, admitting ‘whether or not that is actually doable depends on deployment and implementation’. 

Sir Simon said in yesterday’s briefing: ‘The vaccine that has been approved for the NHS to deploy today, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, has been independently shown to be medically safe, but it is logistically complicated.

‘We have to move it around the country in a carefully controlled way initially at minus 70 degrees centigrade, or thereabouts, and there are a limited number of further movements that we are allowed by the regulator to make.

The 50 NHS hospitals that will start rolling out the vaccine 

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals

Cambridge University Hospitals

Chesterfield Royal Hospital

Countess of Chester Hospital

Croydon University Hospital

Dartford and Gravesham Hospitals

Dorset County Hospitals

East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals

East Kent Hospitals

East Suffolk and North Essex Hospitals

Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust

Gloucestershire Hospitals

Great Western Hospitals

Guys & St Thomas NHS Trust

James Paget University Hospitals

Kings College Hospital

Princess Royal University Hospital, Kings

Lancashire Teaching Hospital

Leeds Teaching Hospital

Leicester Partnership NHS Trust

Liverpool University Hospitals

Medway NHS Foundation Trust

Mid and South Essex Hospitals

Milton Keynes University Hospital

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Northampton General Hospital

North Bristol NHS Foundation Trust

North West Anglia Foundation Trust

Nottingham University Hospitals

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

Portsmouth Hospital University

Royal Cornwall Hospitals

Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals

Sherwood Forest Hospitals

Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust

Stockport NHS Foundation Trust

St George’s University Hospitals

The Newcastle Upon Type Hospitals

University College Hospitals

University Hospitals Birmingham

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire

University Hospitals Derby Burton

University Hospitals of North Midlands

University Hospitals Plymouth

United Lincolnshire Hospitals

Walsall Healthcare

West Hertfordshire Hospitals

Wirral University Teaching Hospital

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals

Yeovil District Hospital

‘It also comes in packs of 975 people’s doses so you can’t at this point just distribute it to every individual GP surgery or pharmacy as we normally would for many of the other vaccines available on the NHS.

‘So the phasing of delivery, the way we will do it, is that next week around 50 hospital hubs across England will start offering the vaccine to the over-80s and to care home staff and others identified by the JCVI typically they may be people who were already down to come into hospital next week for an outpatient appointment.

‘So if you are going to be one of those people next week or in the weeks that follow the hospital will get in touch with you, you don’t need to do anything about it yourself.’  

He added:  ‘If the MHRA, the independent regulator, as we expect they will, give approval for a safe way of splitting these packs of 975 doses then the good news is we will be able to start distributing those to care homes.

‘And then as even more vaccine becomes available finally we will be able to switch on large vaccination centres across the country and indeed invite local community pharmacists probably at the beginning of January to begin to offer vaccination as well.’

This is how the vaccine roll-out could look:

  1. Next week: 50 hospitals around the UK will be set up as the first vaccination hubs and are expected to start work next week, the week beginning December 7. Patients over the age of 80 and health and care workers are expected to be the first people to be invited for vaccinations at hospitals.
  2. Following weeks: The NHS’s chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said he expected that doctors surgeries would be able to start offering vaccines to vulnerable people in the ‘subsequent weeks’.
  3. This month: The Government and NHS will have to get extra permission from the drugs regulator, the MHRA, to break down the vaccines into batches smaller than 975 doses at a time. Officials must wait for this approval before they can take the jabs out into care homes, because transporting them in any way that is less than perfect could make the vaccine unstable and stop it working once it is injected.
  4. January 2021: Sir Simon said that ‘as even more vaccine becomes available’ at the start of 2021, the NHS would be able to start opening more vaccination centres outside of hospitals and also make them available in local pharmacies. This is expected to be the last phase of the programme and will coincide with jabs being offered to younger and healthier groups of people.

To keep doses of the jab at this ultra-low temperature, they need to be packaged with dry ice and placed in a special transport box the size of a suitcase which hold 5,000 doses.

These containers can prevent the vaccines from spoiling for 10 days if they remain unopened. Once the batches arrive at vaccination hubs, they can be stored in standard medical fridges at between 2°C and 8°C for up to five days. Or they can be kept in their shipping boxes for up to 30 days if the containers are topped up with dry ice at least once a week.

Fifty NHS hospitals in England are already equipped with super-cold freezers that can keep the vaccine at -70°C, meaning healthcare staff could be inoculated first. However, the sticking point for care homes may be that BioNTech says that the vaccine can only be kept at between 2°C and 8°C for six hours in transit without going off.

Because the Pfizer suitcases hold 5,000 vaccine doses, smaller quantities would have to be removed from the dry ice suitcases for transport to care homes. 

But once they are in transit the doses could perish after six hours. Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the logistical issues meant ‘in practical terms at this stage that we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes’. 

Matt Hancock hailed the jab’s approval, claiming an end to the pandemic was now ‘in sight’, while Boris Johnson declared it would ‘allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again’.

Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer’s vaccine – which requires people getting two doses 21 days apart – will be made available ‘from next week’. The UK has ordered 40million doses in total, with 10m due by the end of 2020 and the rest next year. 

Mr Hancock declared the vaccine drive ‘one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we’ve faced as a nation’. ‘It will be difficult,’ he said. ‘There will be challenges and complications, but I know that the NHS is equal to the task.’

He added: ‘We will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity because of the need to hold the vaccine at minus 70 – it makes this vaccine particularly challenging to deploy.’ 

Mr Hancock outlined how vaccines will be rolled out across the country, including using ‘conference centres and sports venues’. He said: ‘While we begin vaccination next week the bulk of the vaccinations will be in the New Year, but I would urge anyone called forward for vaccination by the NHS to respond quickly to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.

‘Over the next few months, we will see vaccines delivered in three different ways. First, we will begin vaccinations in hospital hubs. Second, we’ll deploy through local community services including GPs and, in due course, pharmacies too.’

Once the vaccine arrives in the UK from Pfizer’s plant in Belgium, batches will be checked at a central warehouse to ensure their quality. The vaccine will then be unloaded and moved to storage freezers where it will undergo an additional temperature check.

Public Health England (PHE) will process orders placed by the NHS for next day delivery to hospital hubs around the UK. At this point, the first stage of the rollout process can begin.    

A lorry leaves Pfizer's manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, after the American firm's Covid-19 vaccine was approved in the UK. It's not clear if the lorry pictured was transporting the jabs

A lorry leaves Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, after the American firm’s Covid-19 vaccine was approved in the UK. It’s not clear if the lorry pictured was transporting the jabs

 

It comes as England’s deputy medical officer warned that Britons may wear face masks for years to come and could become as commonplace as in the Far East, even after a successful vaccine becomes available. 

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said there would not be an opportunity to ‘have a massive party and throw out our masks and hand sanitiser’ in a similar way to celebrations marking the end of World War Two.

He was then interrupted by Mr Johnson at a No10 press conference, who insisted that life would return to ‘pretty much as close to normal’ a day after he suffered the biggest Tory rebellion in this Parliament so far.

However, Mr Johnson warned the ‘worst thing now would be to think that this is the moment when we can relax our guard’, saying  it would be wrong to think it is ‘game over in the fight against Covid’ and ‘this is not the end’ as he urged people to stick to the new rules ahead of a potential return to normal life in spring next year.

UK REGULATOR INSISTS ‘NO CORNERS WERE CUT’ IN APPROVING THE VACCINE

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) moved with unprecedented speed to approve the jab within just a week of receiving the final data from Pfizer’s phase three trials. The watchdog had been conducting a ‘rolling review’ of the vaccine, scrutinising data from its studies in real-time.

MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine insisted that despite the rapid approval, the vaccine had been assessed with ‘with meticulous care’.

She told the Downing Street press conference: ‘That doesn’t mean that any corners have been cut, none at all.’

Dr Raine said experts had worked ’round the clock, carefully, methodically poring over tables and analyses and graphs on every single piece of data’.

More than 1,000 pages of data had been examined, she said.

She said: ‘The way of working in a rolling review ensures that our teams of clinicians and scientists are working in parallel to complete all of the work according to strict guidelines on safety, effectiveness and quality.’

The vaccine had ‘only been approved because those strict tests have been done and complied with’.

Dr Raine said: ‘If you are climbing a mountain, you prepare and prepare. We started that in June.

‘By the time the interim results became available on November 10 we were at base camp and then when we got the final analysis we were ready for that last sprint that takes us to today.

‘That is the exemplary nature of the work that has been done and the public deserve nothing less.’

Appearing alongside Mr Johnson at a No10 press conference, Prof Van-Tam conceded that mask mandates, social distancing and use of hand sanitiser are unlikely to remain guidelines after the pandemic ends – in a sign that support for restrictions is fading.  

Prof Van-Tam said everyone is ‘fed up’ with the measures, but low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine would mean restrictions lasting longer. However, when he suggested it may be a good thing if some of the habits that have been picked up persist, Mr Johnson was quick to suggest otherwise.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say, ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’, like the end of the war? No, I don’t.

‘I think those kind of habits that we have learned from… will perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do.’

But Mr Johnson responded: ‘And maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.’

The comments came as the UK became the first country to grant regulatory approval to the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, with officials announcing rollout would begin next week.

But Prof Van-Tam cautioned that people need to be patient and continue to follow Government guidelines until told otherwise. He said: ‘We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take.

‘It is going to take months, not weeks. And for now, the other measures, the tier measures, the social distancing have to stay in place. If we relax too soon, if we just kind of go, ‘Oh, the vaccine’s here, let’s abandon caution’, all you are going to do is create a tidal wave of infections.

‘And this vaccine has then got to work in a headwind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder.’

Prof Van-Tam added: ‘Everyone wants social distancing to come to an end – we are fed up with it. Nobody wants lockdowns and to see the damage they do. But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it is offered to you.

‘Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.’

Prof Van-Tam also told the public not to rely on being protected by those who have been vaccinated, saying ‘the vaccine isn’t going to help you if you don’t take it’. He warned: ‘Watching others take it and hoping that this will then protect you isn’t going to work, necessarily.’

The medic was of the opinion coronavirus will never be eradicated, and thinks it may get to the point where the disease becomes a seasonal problem. ‘I think it’s going to be with humankind forever,’ Prof Van-Tam said.

He concluded by saying: ‘I do like to be challenged when I have, perhaps, not made myself clear, and the Prime Minister has picked me up on this occasion, and it’s quite alright because it gives me a chance to clarify what I mean here.

‘I do not think the Government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks, and hand sanitiser forever and a day. I hope we will get back to a much more normal world.

‘But the point I was trying to make was – do I think, possibly, some of those personal habits for some people will persist longer and, perhaps, become enduring for some people, yes, I think that’s possible.’ 

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said at the press conference that the vaccine rollout will begin next week at 50 ‘hospital hubs’ in England. 

People walk through Oxford Circus in London as all 'non-essential' shops open after England's four-week lockdown

People walk through Oxford Circus in London as all ‘non-essential’ shops open after England’s four-week lockdown

People carry out asymptomatic testing using lateral flow antigen at a test centre at Edinburgh University

People carry out asymptomatic testing using lateral flow antigen at a test centre at Edinburgh University

Mr Johnson then admitted that while the Government wants to get the vaccine into care homes ‘as fast as we possibly can’ there are ‘difficulties’ associated with that process.    

Lorries loaded with the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine are already on their way to Britain after the breakthrough jab sealed approval from the UK’s medical regulator.  

Thousands of doses of the vaccine were shipped from Pfizer’s factories in Belgium this morning within hours of it being given the green light by the MHRA, making Britain the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised Covid-19 jab. The doses could reach Britain as soon as tomorrow. 

Speaking in No10, Mr Johnson said: ‘This is a huge moment and… it is also a very moving thing. I am really lost in admiration for science and the ability of scientists to solve human problems in the way that they can. 

Volunteers given Pfizer’s jab reveal how they had headaches and left them ‘aching all over’

Glenn Geshields (left), 44, said he was proud to have taken part. Carrie (right), 45, also from the US, was also involved in Pfizer’s vaccine trial

Volunteers on the Pfizer vaccine trial have compared the jab’s side effects to a ‘severe hangover’ and said it left them with headaches, fever and muscle aches similar to the flu vaccine.

One 45-year-old volunteer said the first dose left her suffering side effects similar to the flu jab but that her symptoms were ‘more severe’ after her second jab.

Another volunteer, 44-year-old Glenn Deshields, said Pfizer’s vaccine made him feel like he had a ‘severe hangover’ but that symptoms quickly cleared up.

More than 43,500 people in six countries took part in the phase three trials by the pharmaceutical giant in the hunt for an effective Covid-19 vaccine. 

Bryan, 42, an engineer from Georgia, believes he was one of the individuals that did not receive the vaccine.

He felt no immune response to the jabs, he said, and after having two shots he contracted Covid-19 after his daughter caught it last month. They have both since recovered.

‘This is not easy. Bear in mind we have got a vaccine now for Covid that really, really works, there is no question that it works, but we haven’t got a vaccine for Sars, for Mers, for HIV. There is a huge, huge, fantastic effort that has gone into this.   

‘And when you consider the damage that this virus has done to human life across the planet, the economic damage, the social damage to say nothing of the cost in life and suffering, it is a fantastic moment.

‘But to repeat the key message, the worst thing now would be to think that this is the moment when we can relax our guard and think that it is game over in the fight against Covid. This is not. This is not the end.’

Professor Van Tam echoed a similar sentiment as he said: ‘I don’t mind telling you, I am not saying it for effect, the office will ell you it is true, that I was quite emotional this morning when I heard June Raine, Sir Munir Pirmohamed and Wei Shen Lim lay out how they had got very meticulously to their conclusions about the Pfizer vaccine.

‘And what a momentous journey and international effort it has been. Discovery by two scientists who originally lived in Turkey, development by a German biotech company, involvement of a massive US pharmaceutical giant and then involvement of our own UK MHRA to bring home the goods in terms of the UK. What a fantastic journey.’  

The announcement comes on the day England emerged from its second national lockdown and came as figures showed Covid cases and deaths are continuing to fall, with another 648 fatalities and 16,170 cases as the second wave dies down.

Ben Osborn, Pfizer’s UK country manager, said that delivery of the vaccine was happening ‘right now’.

He said: ‘As you probably heard from the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, earlier this morning, the delivery schedule has already been put in place.

‘We are delivering right now as we speak from Belgium into the UK – that process has already begun.

‘We anticipate that we will be providing some 800,000 doses or so in the coming days, ready for deployment next week by the NHS.’

He said the pharmaceutical company was not ‘giving an absolute figure’ on the total numbers which would be delivered to the UK this year.

Mr Osborn added: ‘You’ll understand this is a significant challenge to deliver. But we will be in a position to deliver millions of doses in the weeks ahead.

‘That is part of a bigger scale-up, which will essentially allow the UK to have 40million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.’

Sean Marett, chief commercial officer at BioNTech, said the first consignment of its newly-approved vaccine could reach Britain as soon as tomorrow.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘We’re packing them now as we speak and getting ready for shipping. What we can definitely say is it will arrive, the first consignment, in the next few days and that could be as early as tomorrow or it could be a few days later, but the UK will be the first country in the world to be receiving vaccine for administration to its population.

‘We will probably be shipping several consignments to the UK over the next few weeks and it might be that the numbers vary on size of packaging that we put together in a lorry and then ship, so the UK has a good number of vaccines coming to it in December.’

Before the first batch of doses were sent to Britain, batches were checked at a central depot to ensure their quality. The vaccine will then be unloaded and moved to storage freezers where it will undergo an additional temperature check.

Britons given Pfizer’s jab ‘will get partial immunity within TWELVE DAYS of the first dose’

Regulators today claimed Pfizer’s Covid vaccine offers ‘partial immunity’ within just twelve days of getting the first dose.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of Commission on Human Medicine expert working group — which advises ministers on medicinal products, said that some protection occurs after receiving the first of the two-shot vaccine.

It offers a glimmer of hope that the roll-out of the vaccine beginning next week may have an effect before Christmas.

In a Downing Street press conference, he revealed people ‘will be immune seven days after the second dose’ of the vaccine, which is taken roughly 21 days later.

Scientists remain unsure as to how long immunity against Covid lasts for, with fears protection may only be short-lived. But in-depth studies suggest that the majority of survivors will be able to fight off the disease within at least six months.

Some experts have claimed people may need to be vaccinated against the disease every winter, like the flu.

Public Health England (PHE) will process orders placed by the NHS for next day delivery to hospital hubs around the UK. Defrosting the vaccine for use takes several hours and then extra time is needed to prepare the vaccine for administering as doses. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock — who admitted he was unsure how many people need to be vaccinated before restrictions can be lifted — told the Commons the first batch of the vaccine was completed this morning.

He said the rollout of the vaccine will be ‘one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we’ve faced as a nation’.

Mr Hancock told MPs: ‘It will be difficult. There will be challenges and complications, but I know that the NHS is equal to the task.’

He added: ‘We will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity because of the need to hold the vaccine at minus-70 – it makes this vaccine particularly challenging to deploy.’

Mr Hancock said the roll out of the jab represented the start of a ‘new chapter in our fight against this virus’.

He said: ‘Ever since the pandemic hit our shores almost a year ago we have known a vaccine would be critical to set us free. It’s no longer if there’s going to be a vaccine, it’s when.

‘In our battle against the virus, help is on its way. Today is a triumph for all those who believe in science, a triumph for ingenuity, a triumph for humanity.’

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, told a Downing Street press conference this morning: ‘The advice is aimed at maximising the benefit from vaccines and therefore it is aimed at the most vulnerable people, which are people in care homes.’ 

He added: ‘Whether or not the vaccine can be delivered to care homes is a valid point and there will be some flexibility [with the priority list]. Every effort should be made to supply and offer the vaccine to care home residents. Whether that’s doable is dependent on deployment and implementation.’ 

At Prime Minister’s Questions at lunchtime, Mr Johnson admitted there would be ‘logistical’ issues in trying to get all care homes immunised first after being quizzed by Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader asked: ‘What plans has he put in place to address these particular problems of getting the vaccine safely and quickly into care homes, given the practical difficulties of doing so and the anxiety that those in care homes will have about getting it quickly?’

Mr Johnson said: ‘It does need to be kept at -70C, as I think the House understands, so there are logistical challenges to be overcome to get vulnerable people the access to the vaccine that they need.

‘We are working on it with all four devolved administrations in order to ensure that the NHS across the country is able – and it’s the NHS that will be in the lead – to distribute it as fast and as sensibly as possible to the most vulnerable groups.’

Welsh Health Minister Mr Gething raised more doubts that care homes would be inoculated first this morning when asked about the vaccine’s deployment.

He said the Government in Wales had been exploring ‘suitable options for initial deployment of this vaccine’, but ‘in practical terms at this stage that we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes’.

But Sean Marett, who is chief commercial officer at BioNTech and responsible for distribution, took issue with UK officials’ claims the Covid-19 vaccine would be a logistical nightmare to get to care homes.

He said: ‘We have stability studies now really supporting the evidence for being able to transport up to six hours at two to eight degrees, so you can really take vials from the vaccination centre – one of the large ones – put them in a bag at two to 8C and take them to the care homes where they can be administered directly to the patients.’

He added: ‘If you store the vaccine in a fridge, you can store it for up to five days. If you want to take some of those vials out of the fridge containing the vaccine, and ship them to a local care home, then you have to do that within six hours at two to eight degrees.’

Mr Marett said one option is pure storage where you take the vaccine out and use it for the patient, and the other is to put it in a van, and deliver those vaccines to a care home.

‘There you need to deliver within six hours, at two to eight and use the vaccine thereafter,’ he said.

HOW DO THE OXFORD, MODERNA AND PFIZER/BIONTECH VACCINES COMPARE? 

Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have both released interim results of the final stage clinical trials of their vaccines, with both suggesting they are extremely effective. 

Oxford University has published the findings from its second phase, which show the jab provokes an immune response and is safe to use – it is not yet clear how well it protects against coronavirus in the real world.

Here’s how they compare: 

PFIZER (US) & BIONTECH (DE)

mRNA vaccine – Genetic material from coronavirus is injected to trick immune system into making ‘spike’ proteins and learning how to attack them.

mRNA vaccine – both Moderna’s and Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccines work in the same way.

Recombinant viral vector vaccine – a harmless cold virus taken from chimpanzees was edited to produce the ‘spike’ proteins and look like the coronavirus.

94.5% effective (90 positive in placebo group, 5 positive in vaccine group) .

95% effective (160 positive in placebo group, 8 positive in vaccine group).

62% – 90% effective, depending on dosing.

Moderna confirmed it will charge countries placing smaller orders, such as the UK’s five million doses, between £24 and £28 per dose. US has secured 100million doses for $1.525billion (£1.16bn), suggesting it will cost $15.25 (£11.57) per dose.

The US will pay $1.95bn (£1.48bn) for the first 100m doses, a cost of $19.50 (£14.80) per dose.

Expected to cost £2.23 per dose. The UK’s full 100m dose supply could amount to just £223million.

UK has ordered five million doses which will become available from March 2021. Moderna will produce 20m doses this year, expected to stay in the US. 

UK has already ordered 40million doses, of which 10million could be available in 2020. First vaccinations expected in December.

UK has already ordered 100million doses and is expected to be first in line to get it once approved.

What side effects does it cause? 

Moderna said the vaccine is ‘generally safe and well tolerated’. Most side effects were mild or moderate but included pain, fatigue and headache, which were ‘generally’ short-lived. 

Pfizer and BioNTech did not produce a breakdown of side effects but said the Data Monitoring Committee ‘has not reported any serious safety concerns’.

Oxford said there have been no serious safety concerns. Mild side effects have been relatively common in small trials, with many participants reporting that their arm hurt after the jab and they later suffered a headache, exhaustion or muscle pain. More data is being collected.

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