The NHS will start vaccinating the most vulnerable next week, after 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine passed batch testing this morning, the health secretary has said.
Announcing the UK’s approval of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine in the Commons this morning, Matt Hancock said: “I can confirm that batch testing has been completed this morning for the first deployment of 800,000 doses of the vaccine. These doses cover the whole United Kingdom.”
The Pfizer vaccine is 95 per cent effective and has passed the requisite safety checks by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The government has secured orders for 40m doses of the drug, alongside 317m doses of six other vaccines.
The Pfizer jab will be enough to vaccinate 20m people through two doses each.
Hancock chaired a meeting with health ministers from the devolved administrations this morning “to ensure the rollout is coordinated nationwide”.
The NHS has joined with the Armed Forces to begin urgent preparations to roll out the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine by the weekend, with the drug set to hit London in the next few weeks.
Military personnel have been called in to transform around 10 sites into vaccine hubs within a fortnight, including the Nightingale hospital at London’s Excel centre.
Every major city in the UK is set to host its own mass vaccination centre, while a further 1,000 small sites will be established across England.
However, the health secretary urged cautious optimism over the news, warning that the UK’s vaccination “will be difficult”.
“This will be one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we’ve faced as a nation,” he said. “There will be challenges and complications, but I know that the NHS is equal to the task, rolling out the vaccine free at the point of delivery [and] according to clinical need — not ability to pay.”
The Prime Minister welcomed the news this morning as “fantastic” and that vaccines will “ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives”.
Hancock announced there will also be a wide-scale “public information campaign” to boost trust in the vaccine’s safety, following concerns that efforts to vaccinate the population will be scuppered by anti-vaxxers.
The health secretary vouched to take the vaccine live on air to prove it was safe for public use, as the government prepares to armour the UK against disinformation.
MHRA chief Dr June Raine this morning assured the British public that “no corners have been cut” in assessing the safety of the Pfizer vaccine despite its swift timeline.
Vaccines usually take around a decade from start to finish before they hit the shelves, whereas Pfizer’s will start public rollout within 10 months of being first developed.
“Our expert scientists and clinicians have worked round the clock, carefully and methodically poring over tables, analyses and graphs on hundreds of thousands of pages of data,” Raine added. “The safety of the public will always come first”.
It comes after Pfizer’s announcement this morning ignited conspiracy theories across social media sites.
“Thalidomide” was trending on Twitter just hours after the MHRA announced it had approved the jab from the US drugs firm.
The government last week said it has mobilised the army to utilise an elite “information warfare” unit to counter online propaganda against vaccines.
Leaked documents revealed that its soldiers are already monitoring cyberspace for Covid-19 content and analysing how British citizens are being targeted online.