UK takes major leap in Covid-19 fightback as nation starts its biggest

Tomorrow marks the ‘first step on the road back to normality’ as British patients begin receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, the head of the NHS has declared.

In a world first, the health service will start the biggest vaccination drive in British history at 50 hospital sites across the country.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the rollout of the first coronavirus vaccine – dubbed ‘V-Day’ – is a ‘landmark day for the country and momentous day for the NHS’.

He heralded it the ‘turning point’ in the battle against the pandemic by protecting the most vulnerable in society and paving the way for the easing of some restrictions by spring.

Hospital hubs across the country now have stocks of the Pfizer vaccine and will start vaccinating over-80s, care home staff and health workers in the first wave of the programme.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the rollout of the first coronavirus vaccine – dubbed 'V-Day' – is a 'landmark day for the country and momentous day for the NHS'

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the rollout of the first coronavirus vaccine – dubbed ‘V-Day’ – is a ‘landmark day for the country and momentous day for the NHS’

The main focus will be on over-80s, who will have either been invited for the vaccine while attending an outpatient appointment or be an inpatient at the hospital.

Care home staff are also being invited in the first tranche of vaccines, with any unfilled appointments taken by NHS staff to ensure no doses go to waste.

Writing in the Mail, Sir Simon says NHS staff have been working around the clock to manage the huge logistical challenge of deploying the Pfizer vaccine.

Urging readers to ‘play their part’ and take up the jab when it is offered to them, he said: ‘We can take heart that we are now beginning to have the tools to beat this terrible virus back.’

But he warned that it will take ‘some months to reach everyone at risk’ and urged the public to continue to take great care for the sake of themselves, their loved ones and the NHS.

Urging readers to 'play their part' and take up the jab when it is offered to them, he said: 'We can take heart that we are now beginning to have the tools to beat this terrible virus back'

Urging readers to ‘play their part’ and take up the jab when it is offered to them, he said: ‘We can take heart that we are now beginning to have the tools to beat this terrible virus back’

His comments come as the Prime Minister said the UK is taking a ‘huge step forward’ in its fight against coronavirus.

Boris Johnson said he was ‘immensely proud’ of the scientists who have developed the vaccine, shown to be 95 per cent effective across all age groups.

Sir Simon said delivering the vaccine presents ‘complex logistical challenges’ as it must be kept at -70C (-94F) until it is needed and only moved a limited number of times.

But he is confident the first doses will get to those most in need, saying months of careful planning has gone into this day.

Some 800,000 doses of the jab have been delivered to the UK so far, enough for 400,000 people.

A graphic demonstrates the order of priority in which the vaccine will be rolled out, starting with residents in care homes

A graphic demonstrates the order of priority in which the vaccine will be rolled out, starting with residents in care homes

A graphic shows how the Pfizer jab will work, by entering the patient's cells, causing the immune system to produce antibodies and activate T-cells ready to destroy those infected with coronavirus

A graphic shows how the Pfizer jab will work, by entering the patient’s cells, causing the immune system to produce antibodies and activate T-cells ready to destroy those infected with coronavirus

Hospitals have been told they will be expected to carry out a minimum of one box of vaccine – 975 doses – during the first week.

Once given the first dose, patients will be given a vaccination card stating the date of their crucial second dose, which must be given 21 days later for the vaccine to be fully effective.

Family doctors and other primary care staff have been put on standby to start delivering the jab from next week.

Some 280 GP vaccine hubs are expected to start administering the jab from Monday, with more practices across the country joining in throughout December.

They have been advised that they will need to use the vaccine within three-and-a-half days, not the previously suggested five days, to adhere to regulatory requirements set by the MHRA, the UK’s medicines regulator.

Britain's daily Covid cases may be starting to slowly creep up again, official statistics suggested today after health chiefs recorded another 14,718 infections - but deaths continue to fall

Britain’s daily Covid cases may be starting to slowly creep up again, official statistics suggested today after health chiefs recorded another 14,718 infections – but deaths continue to fall

Mass vaccination centres at sports grounds and conference centres are not expected to open until the new year, once the alternative Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has been given the go-ahead by regulators.

Hospitals have now cared for more than 190,000 seriously ill Covid-19 patients and have seen beds fill up again in recent weeks, according to Sir Simon.

A further 14,718 people tested positive for coronavirus and there were a further 189 deaths reported yesterday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country can finally ‘breathe a collective sigh of relief’ as vaccinations get underway today.

He said: ‘We will look back on today – V-day – as a key moment in our fightback against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services… are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme.

‘Now’s the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS it’s time for your vaccination.’

Q&A

Is the vaccine definitely safe?

Yes. The vaccine has been developed quickly but has gone through the same rigorous testing process as any other medicine before it is approved by regulators.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has stressed that no stage has been skipped, but simply sped up because it is an emergency.

Following the ebola crisis, emergency funding mechanisms were put in place, allowing money to be allocated quickly.

And new technologies – specifically the mRNA process previously only used in cancer treatments – has also sped up the process.

Were the trials big enough?

The Pfizer vaccine was tested on 43,500 people from diverse backgrounds across six countries. This is a large sample for safety data to be based on and no concerns were raised. While the UK regulator was first to approve it, European and American watchdogs are expected to follow suit and give the green light very soon.

What is an MRNA vaccine and can it affect genetic code?

No. Injecting mRNA does not do anything to the DNA of a human cell. The mRNA carries the genetic information of the Covid-19 virus and tricks the body into producing some of the viral proteins itself.

It works by introducing a messenger RNA molecule into the body, which gives the body instructions to build copies of the protein spikes on the Covid-19 virus. The immune system then learns to recognise and produce antibodies against the protein.

What are the reported side effects?

The reported side effects were mild, with the worst cases comparing it to a ‘severe hangover’ which cleared up quickly. The most common side effects were fatigue (4 per cent) and headache (2 per cent) after the second dose, given 21 days after the first vaccine.

What about longer term?

While there could be problems that are still unknown, most vaccines show up adverse side effects quickly. The most recent example was with swine flu, when around 900 cases of narcolepsy – a condition that causes sufferers to fall asleep suddenly – were reported a few weeks after vaccination.

However, this was still very rare, with a study finding that around one in 55,000 jabs was associated with narcolepsy. The MHRA has said it will be actively monitoring the rollout of the vaccine through its yellow card reporting system.

This will enable anyone to report side effects that they believe were caused by the vaccine.

I’ve had coronavirus, do I need the vaccine?

Yes. A recent study led by Public Health England found levels of antibodies, which neutralise a virus before it enters the body’s cells, fell dramatically in many patients a few months after recovery.

What’s more, the diversity in the immune response from natural infection might be because of differences in the amount of virus to which the person was exposed.

With a vaccine, everyone gets the same dose and therefore the same level of protection.

Why won’t pregnant women be offered it?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) has advised that pregnant women do not get the vaccine because there is no data as yet on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines in pregnancy.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, has said the guidance for pregnant women is a precaution and not a sign that the JCVI has identified a ‘terrible problem’.

And no children?

It is normal for vaccines to be tested on adults before children, which would require a totally separate paediatric testing programme. Pfizer has now started testing its vaccine on children as young as 12.

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SIMON STEVENS: V-Day is a historic moment… and you can play your part

BySimon Stevens Chief Executive Of NHS England For The Daily Mail 

This is a landmark day for our country and a momentous day for the NHS as we begin the biggest vaccination campaign in our history.

NHS staff have been pulling out all the stops to prepare for ‘V-day’.

When nurses deliver the first ‘jabs’ this morning it will be the culmination of months of hard work by many people here and abroad, and the latest intervention from the NHS to help protect the public from Covid-19.

When the first jab is given today, scientists, doctors and health professionals will have together achieved in months what normally takes years.

So it’s right to say a huge thank you to all those who have worked tirelessly to develop the vaccine, to the volunteers who selflessly took part in the trials and the expert regulators for the thorough job that they have done in ensuring it is both safe and effective.

This is a landmark day for our country and a momentous day for the NHS as we begin the biggest vaccination campaign in our history, writes Sir Simon Stevens

This is a landmark day for our country and a momentous day for the NHS as we begin the biggest vaccination campaign in our history, writes Sir Simon Stevens

Of course, it will take some months to reach everyone at risk as more vaccine supply comes online.

So in the meantime we need to continue to take great care.

Too many of us have lost loved ones or seen them face serious illness. And all of us have endured the pain of separation, isolation and anxiety that have resulted from needed social distancing measures.

So after such a testing year we can take heart that we are now beginning to have the tools to beat this terrible virus back.

But while we celebrate progress it is vital we do not let down our guard.

Following the guidance on ‘hands, face and space’ will only be more important as we head into the festive season.

As everyone knows, prevention is better than cure.

Since the first cases were diagnosed back in January NHS staff have given their all to care for almost 200,000 patients with Covid-19 while keeping other essential services going. NHS staff are raring to go and today is just the first step on the road back to normality.

Delivering the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine presents complex logistical challenges as it must be kept at -70C until it is needed and can only be moved a limited number of times after leaving the manufacturer.

That is why we are starting vaccinations at 50 hospital hubs this week, then expanding to more hospitals in the coming weeks, along with GP surgeries and care homes.

Community pharmacists and vaccination centres housed in sports venues and conference centres will be stood up as more supplies come on-stream in the new year.

The NHS has a proven track record of delivering vaccines for diseases including tuberculosis, polio, and meningitis.

The history of the health service is one of innovation and staff are now showing the same agility in delivering the vaccine that they did during the first wave of infections, when hospitals were rapidly reconfigured to respond to the pandemic.

Daily Mail readers can play their part. The NHS will contact you when it is your turn to receive the vaccine. And when you are contacted, please do take up the offer.

As our doctors have said, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and delivering the programme is the work of months rather than days or weeks.

But when we come to look back on today, all of us in the health service hope that it will mark a decisive turning point in our shared battle against coronavirus.

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