Saturday, 9 January 2021

Vaccines- your questions answered

Last week marked a milestone in Tynedale’s fight against the coronavirus, with the first vaccines delivered locally. Archie Tait from Barrasford celebrated his 88th birthday by receiving his first dose of the vaccine in Hexham! 

The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine across the Hexham constituency and beyond is a huge step forward in what is to be the largest vaccination programme in British history. Nationally, over 1.5 million doses have been given – more than the rest of Europe combined. 


I know that many people in the Hexham constituency have questions about the vaccination rollout and are anxious to receive news about when they can expect to receive their vaccine, so I have set out further information below. 


How many vaccinations have been administered so far?


In a sign of the rapid acceleration of the vaccine that we can expect over the coming weeks, very soon, hundreds of thousands of people will be being vaccinated per day. The government has a plan to vaccinate all of the four most vulnerable groups – 13.9 million people – with at least one dose by the middle of February. This includes all care home residents and their carers, frontline NHS staff, everybody over the age of 70, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding. 


The Army have also been brought in to aid the pace of the rollout, using their expert logistics skills to ensure we can vaccinate people as fast as possible, so we can ease restrictions at the earliest opportunity. 


How many vaccines have been approved for use in the UK?


To date, three vaccines have been approved in the UK- Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford AstraZeneca and Moderna. The UK has ordered 367 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, including 10 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which was approved this week.


Every vaccine in use has been approved by the independent expert body, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, following a rigorous assessment by a team of scientists, and advice from the Commission on Human Medicines, which reviewed all data to ensure the vaccine meets the required standards of safety, quality and effectiveness. 


All three vaccines have only been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency because they are safe, effective and give very high protecting from severe illness. 


How effective are the vaccines?


No vaccine is 100% effective – the annual flu vaccination programme, for example, provides around 67% protection. All three vaccines approved in the UK have been shown to offer a high degree of protection from the virus. 


The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, while the recently approved Moderna vaccine offered nearly 95% protection from severe cases of the illness in trials.  


The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be around 70% effective, and nobody who received this vaccine in trials developed severe COVID-19 or needed hospital treatment.


When will I get my second vaccine dose?


The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MRHA) authorisation of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine states that the vaccine should be administered in two doses. The second dose should be given between four and twelve weeks after the first. For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the second dose should be administered at least three weeks later.


Data shown to MRHA shows that both the Pfizer/BioNTeach and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines offer considerable protection against COVID-19 after a single dose. The Government has therefore asked GP practices to focus on giving the first vaccine dose to as many patients as possible, rather than vaccinating fewer people with two doses.


At this stage of the pandemic, it is important to prioritise the first doses of the vaccine for as many people as possible on the Government’s priority list. This will protect the greatest number of at risk people in the shortest possible time and will have the greatest impact on reducing mortality, severe disease and hospitalisations and in protecting the NHS. 


It is important to stress that everyone will still receive their second vaccination within 12 weeks of the first does, as this is important for longer term protection against COVID-19. 


Is the vaccine safe?


All three vaccines approved for use in the UK have been extensively trialled under a variety of conditions, before undergoing a robust and independent analysis process.


The MRHA is one of the most respected regulators in the world and has followed rigorous procedures to ensure that the vaccines meet the high standards of safety and efficacy. So far 1.5 million people have been given a COVID-19 vaccination and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. If you have concerns about your personal health in relation to receiving the coronavirus vaccine, I would certainly recommend that you first discuss this with your GP.


When will I receive my vaccine?


The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have set out guidance on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. This priority list has been determined following consideration of evidence on the risk of exposure and mortality by age and occupation.


The vaccination programme is currently focused on vaccinating care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care workers, people over 70 years of age and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. The Prime Minister has stated that it is hoped that everyone who falls into one of these groups will have had a first dose of the vaccine by the middle of February. 


More than 1,000 GP centres, 223 hospitals and 200 vaccines will be giving vaccines by the end of the week, and once the above priority groups have been vaccinated, the government move to the next phase of the vaccination programme when the next priority groups will receive their vaccinations.


How will my vaccination be arranged?


Your GP practice will contact you when it is your turn to be vaccinated. I understand that many people are anxious to receive their vaccine but please be patient. Your GP practice will contact you in due course. 


In the meantime, make sure that you are registered with a GP practice and that they have up-to-date contact details for you or someone who they can speak to on your behalf.


The COVID-19 vaccine will always be free of charge and you will never be asked to share bank details to confirm your identity. The vaccination is only available through the NHS and it is not possible to pay to receive the vaccination privately.


I would really urge everybody who is offered the vaccination to take it. Vaccination is the best way of avoiding potential serious illness from the coronavirus and helping to ease the current restrictions and pressure on the NHS.