We look at how the launch of a new vaccine will work in the fight against covid
What impact will the approval of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine have?
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is central to the government’s plans to end social distancing in the UK and return to some normalcy.
It has invested in seven different vaccines, but the biggest order is for 100 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, most of which will be manufactured in the UK. While the prime minister cheered that the U.K. was the first country in the world to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, he can now claim a British triumph.
More importantly, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is easy to use. Unlike Pfizer’s, it does not need to be stored long-term at -70C. Pfizer’s vaccine can be stored in the refrigerator for five days, while AstraZeneca’s can be kept at refrigerator temperature for months, i.e., at a temperature of 2 to 8C. This means it can easily be taken to nursing homes to be administered to residents, the first priority group for vaccination.
How quickly will I receive my vaccine?
That depends on a few things, such as where you are on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) priority list, how many people can be recruited to deliver the vaccine, and how quickly the vaccination teams can work.
The first priority group is nursing home residents and the staff who care for them, and the second group is the over-80s and NHS staff. Then it goes on by decreasing age: those over 75, those over 70, and those over 65. Next are people of all ages with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk, then the over 60s, the over 55s and the over 50s.
This list accounts for more than 25 million people. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Matt Hancock, is aiming for 2 million people to be vaccinated each week, but that’s a big step up from previous numbers. Even if AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be more easily deployed and local pharmacists and people with medical training who are not nurses join the vaccination teams, it will be a feat.
But if everything goes smoothly, most people in the first phase could theoretically have received their first vaccination by April.
What evidence is there for a 12-week delay in the second dose?
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which granted interim emergency approval for the vaccines, said in its approval that the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine should be given at least three weeks after the first, and AstraZeneca’s vaccine at least four weeks after that. This is consistent with what was done in the clinical trials.
However, the JCVI has gone further to offer some protection to as many people as possible, saying the second dose can be given up to 12 weeks after the first for both vaccines.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca studies show greater efficacy in people who received the second vaccination later – up to 70 percent up to 12 weeks after the first vaccination. The JCVI says there is also evidence that is not publicly available. However, Pfizer/BioNTech said in a statement that there is no evidence that a single vaccination of their vaccine is effective beyond three weeks.
It seems clear that the JCVI recommendation is a piece of public health pragmatism. The more people who have some immunity, the less disease is likely to occur.
Is one vaccination enough?
It’s possible to get 70 percent protection with AstraZeneca’s vaccine even after 12 weeks – but booster vaccination was always intended to extend the duration of protection.
Will anyone who needs a second vaccination be able to get it 12 weeks after the first dose?
That depends on the arrival of the vaccine batches. Hopefully, by the time most people need a second vaccination, there will be a smooth delivery system in place and no problems with supply.
But for now, supplies of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine are running low, especially in Europe, where it is the only approved vaccine.
BioNTech has warned of a supply shortage because the company can’t keep up with demand.
In some regions of Germany, where the company is headquartered, the