Just as the UK passes the grim 50,000 death milestone, the news of a vaccine offering 94% of people protection from Covid-19 comes with great hope as we now know the virus is vaccine-preventable.
The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, has performed well in preliminary analyses and the government has already secured doses for 20 million people.
Not long after this announcement, US firm Moderna announced their even more effective vaccine. The vaccine, shown to be 94.5% effective, has been developed quickly using similar methods to the first vaccine.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised the NHS will begin rolling out doses on 1 December, despite the safety of the vaccine not yet being established.
Conventional vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, work by injecting a dead or weakened form of the pathogen that builds immunity by helping the body recognise and respond to the disease. These vaccines take between 10-15 years to fully develop. This is where the vaccines being developed for Covid-19 are different.
Several companies, including Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, are creating an RNA vaccine. This involves a synthetic version of the mRNA (the molecule which tells cells what to build) that a virus uses to build its infectious proteins.
This is injected into the body, where the cells read it as instructions to build that viral protein and therefore create some of the virus’s molecules themselves, however these proteins do not assemble to form a virus. The immune system detects these cells and begins a defensive response to them, therefore building immunity.
If one of these vaccines are approved, it will be the first of its kind.
On BBC’s Question Time, Mr Hancock answered questions about the vaccine, including the list of who will get the vaccination first. In the UK, care home residents and staff are top of the vaccination priority list, followed by health and social workers, over 80s, then continues to people down the age bands. Hancock stated it will then go to those particularly vulnerable across all age groups.
The government hopes to get the vaccine ‘to more than 50 percent’ of the UK population, but all of these promises and hopes are still no quick fix in ending the pandemic.
The transportation and storage of the 40 million vaccines is an issue in question, which Hancock described as a ‘mammoth logistical operation’, especially given that the vaccine is being developed in Belgium and can only be removed from its storage temperature of minus 70C four times. With most other vaccines not requiring such low storage temperatures, most GPs only have refrigeration facilities and regular freezers set at temperatures between minus 2 and minus 8 degrees celsius.
In response to this, Hancock said: “Is this going to be an enormous challenge? Of course. This will be one of the biggest civilian operations in history… but I think that the NHS can rise to [this challenge].
“I’m confident that we can make it happen.”