Health

NHS workers are bumped off vaccine priority list as Pfizer’s HALVES its deliveries

Fitness & Health:

Britain’s biggest vaccination drive in history to finally spell an end to the Covid pandemic will begin on Tuesday, health bosses revealed today amid fears the UK may not get all 10million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s jab No10 had hoped to receive before New Year. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents hospital trusts in England, said the ‘race’ will start on December 8, with care home residents now expected to be inoculated within days after concerns they would fall down the priority list because of the logistical nightmare of rolling out the vaccine. Northern Ireland’s programme will also begin on Tuesday, with sources saying the first person to get it will be a medic trained to deliver the jab themselves. 

Hopes of an end to economically-crippling restrictions were bolstered last night after the first batch of the prized jab arrived in the UK, following No10’s ‘top secret’ operation to transport hundreds of thousands of doses in a fleet of unmarked lorries on the Eurotunnel.

But questions have now been raised over how many of the 40million doses ordered Britain will actually get by the end of 2020, despite the Government pledging that a quarter of the supply – enough to give to 5million people – would be available by Christmas.

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Pfizer last night revealed it will only be able to distribute half of the 100million vaccines it had originally proposed to do this year because of supply chain issues. And Mr Hopson last night warned the first batch of 800,000 doses, due to arrive before next week’s inoculation operation, ‘could be the only batch we receive for some time’.

Ministers moved to quash fears today. Business Secretary Alok Sharma admitted only ‘some’ shots are already in the UK but revealed he was ‘confident’ all 800,000 would all get here in time for the mass roll-out and said that he hopes ‘millions’ of doses will arrive before the New Year. BioNTech’s chief commercial officer said Downing St can expect more shipments to arrive from Monday.  

It comes amid mounting confusion over the Government’s priority list. The logistical nightmare of getting the jab to care home residents, who are supposed to be at the very front of the queue, meant NHS staff were inevitably bumped up the pecking order. But it has now emerged that frontline NHS workers will no longer be prioritised for the vaccine – which trials have shown is 95 per cent effective. 

Another hurdle of getting the vaccine into care homes looks set to be cleared after officials last night devised a way to split the Pfizer vaccine into small batches suitable for distribution. NHS bosses admitted the ban on pack-splitting was the only thing holding up getting the jab to Britain’s most vulnerable group. Scotland has already announced care home residents will get vaccines from December 14.

The vaccine currently comes in packs of between 975 and 4,875 doses, which must be used within six hours of being transported – even if kept refrigerated. Many care homes have only dozens of residents, meaning that even the smallest package would be far too many doses and lay hundreds of precious jabs to waste. The MHRA has yet to officially rubber-stamp pack-splitting but is expected to do so imminently. 

And it comes after Donald Trump’s top medic today apologised for his blistering and bitter attack on Britain over its world-first approval of a coronavirus vaccine to treat millions of people from Monday. Dr Anthony Fauci backed down in the diplomatic row after he accused the UK drug regulator of failing to adequately scrutinise data from manufacturers. Boris Johnson today defended the MHRA and called it ‘a world leader in its field’.

The MHRA strongly disputes any claims that it has cut corners, saying its decision went through a series of panels before being approved. Dr June Raine, its chief executive, was lined up to speak on local radio stations today, in an attempt to debunk fears the vaccine was rushed through. And it was revealed the Government will compensate anyone who suffers severe side effects to the vaccine with payments of up to £120,000.

Pfizer's Covid vaccine is reportedly being held in a warehouse in the Midlands. Pictured above, a site in Bedford that had lorries with Belgian number plates arrive this morning

Pfizer’s Covid vaccine is reportedly being held in a warehouse in the Midlands. Pictured above, a site in Bedford that had lorries with Belgian number plates arrive this morning

Health Secretary Matt Hancock poses running past photographers whilst out for a morning jog in Westminster today

Health Secretary Matt Hancock poses running past photographers whilst out for a morning jog in Westminster today

Medical waste bins are seen outside the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre today, which is situated beside the Etihad Stadium and being converted into a Covid vaccination centre

Medical waste bins are seen outside the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre today, which is situated beside the Etihad Stadium and being converted into a Covid vaccination centre

Workers unload security railings at the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre. Britain's mass vaccination programme will begin on Tuesday, it was revealed this morning

Workers unload security railings at the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre. Britain’s mass vaccination programme will begin on Tuesday, it was revealed this morning

An employee at Pfizer's manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium - where Britain's first batches of the Covid jab was shipped from - works with containers of dry ice

An employee at Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium – where Britain’s first batches of the Covid jab was shipped from – works with containers of dry ice

A truck leaves Pfizer's manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium, yesterday (it is not clear if this was carrying the Covid vaccine, or if it was heading to Britain)

A truck leaves Pfizer’s manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium, yesterday (it is not clear if this was carrying the Covid vaccine, or if it was heading to Britain)

Now US’s top doctor Fauci says SORRY for accusing UK of rushing Pfizer vaccine approval 

US Covid supremo Anthony Fauci, pictured with President Trump, lashed out over the speed of Britain's decision to approve the Pfizer /BioNTech jab, suggesting they cheated. He later apologised

US Covid supremo Anthony Fauci, pictured with President Trump, lashed out over the speed of Britain’s decision to approve the Pfizer /BioNTech jab, suggesting they cheated. He later apologised

Donald Trump’s top medic Dr Anthony Fauci has today apologised for his blistering and bitter attack on Britain over its world-first approval of a coronavirus vaccine to treat millions of people from Monday.

Dr Fauci has backed down in the diplomatic row after he accused the UK drug regulator of failing to adequately scrutinise data from manufacturers before becoming the first country to clear the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for widespread use.

His humbling apology came just hours after Joe Biden asked him to be his chief medical adviser – with some suggesting the next US president may have intervened.

Dr Fauci, who is also under pressure from the Trump administration to explain why the US was beaten by Britain to approving a vaccine created in America, likened London’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to a marathon runner who cheats by joining ‘in the last mile’.

And he raised safety questions over the speed at which the MHRA acted to approve the treatment, telling CBS News: ‘I love the Brits, they’re great, they’re good scientists, but they just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said: ”OK, let’s approve it, that’s it’.’

But after a barrage of anger from Britain, where critics accused him of aiding anti-vaxxers, Mr Fauci later clarified his remarks, saying: ‘I did not mean to imply any sloppiness on the part of the UK regulators, even though it came out that way, I apologise’, adding there was ‘no judgement on the way the UK did it. It came out wrong. I do have great faith in the scientific and regulatory community in the UK’.

Britain plans to begin its biggest vaccination drive in history next week, with the first 800,000 shots being taken to specially equipped laboratories to double-check they are safe to use, before arriving at NHS hospitals and makeshift centres.

In preparation for the mammoth nationwide operation the Army and NHS have already carried out a dry run of the campaign. 

Exercise Panacea took place at a Bristol football stadium and saw 30 staff and volunteers road-test how they plan to give most of the population the coronavirus jab at regional hubs. 

Discussing the roll-out next week, Mr Hopson said it will be ‘a marathon, it’s not a sprint’, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘We’re looking forward to the race starting on Tuesday.’ 

In other coronavirus developments today:

  • Britain’s coronavirus R rate has fallen for the fourth week in a row and could now be as low as 0.8, SAGE said;
  • Daily coronavirus infections in England dropped by almost half during November’s lockdown from 47,700 per day to 25,700, official data confirmed;
  • Every local authority in the North of England saw their Covid-19 infection rate fall last week, according to official figures that add to mounting fears millions of people have been unnecessarily forced to live under the harshest Tier Three curbs;
  • Ministers were accused of letting their ‘mates’ off quarantine after ‘high-value’ business travellers were handed an exemption from self-isolation rules;
  • Fears that the NHS will be overwhelmed this winter are receding, with official figures revealing the country is virtually free of the flu virus;
  • Boris Johnson urged couples to book weddings with ‘confidence’ for next summer thanks to new coronavirus vaccines and tests – but refused to say if his would be among them;
  • Rapid coronavirus testing being carried out by the Government is ‘unsafe’ because the tests miss around half of infected people and let them go, scientists warned;
  • Pub bosses have called for £1.8billion of Covid refund cash from supermarkets to be handed to their devastated industry.

Mr Hopson added that hospitals are working out how many care home residents, care home staff and over-80s they can get to. 

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The Health Service Journal reports that some NHS staff will still be vaccinated next week, with hospital trusts that have spare doses able to dish it out to frontline medics. 

But the trade magazine says numbers are expected to be ‘strictly limited’, with over-80s already at hospital likely to be the first in line and the majority of the NHS workforce having to wait until the New Year.

Continuing to explain the plan for the vaccine roll-out, Mr Hopson said: ‘We are identifying in hospitals how many over-80s do we have, either currently receiving treatment inside the hospital or people who are coming in for outpatient appointments.’

He added that getting it to care home residents – who aren’t routinely allowed out because of safety fears – was ‘more complex’ because of the regulatory ban on splitting packs.

The key problem hinges on the way the vaccine is supplied by Pfizer – in large freezer cases capable of storing up to 5,000 doses at the required temperature. Each container holds trays, roughly the size of a pizza box, containing 975 doses.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today admitted only 'some' of the 800,000 shots are already in the UK

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers - which represents hospital trusts in England, said the 'race' will start on December 8

Business Secretary Alok Sharma (left) today admitted only ‘some’ of the 800,000 shots are already in the UK. Chris Hopson (right), chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents hospital trusts in England, said the ‘race’ will start on December 8

Research for MailOnline showed 58 per cent back the PM underlining his confidence about safety by having the jab on screen

Research for MailOnline showed 58 per cent back the PM underlining his confidence about safety by having the jab on screen

Why is the Pfizer vaccine so difficult to transport? 

The approval of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday was hailed as the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel that could finally revert Britain back to pre-pandemic normality.

But the breakthrough jab — shown to be 95 per cent effective at blocking Covid-19 infection — has thrown up a series of logistical hurdles that make getting the vaccine to those who need it most challenging, including care homes.

The issues stem from the fact the vaccine is made from volatile genetic material known as mRNA, which is constantly under threat from being destroyed by other molecules in the environment.

BioNTech packages the vaccine in dry-ice stuffed batches of 975 vials, each containing five doses, which must be stored at -70C to stop the mRNA being destroyed in transit or storage.  

Messenger RNA is used by human cells to carry messages and give instructions. Pfizer’s jab tells the body to create the coronavirus’s unique spike protein, training the immune system to recognise and fight off future infection. 

But, as a result of the natural rapid turnaround of mRNA’s lifespan, it is, by nature, a short-lived molecule only ever intended to exist for a matter of hours.  

This poses a significant problem when trying to get the mRNA vaccine into a human as under normal conditions it will break down and become useless.   

There are not many proven ways of ensuring long-term survival of the vaccine. One proven method is extremely cold temperatures, which stops all movement and reactions and prevents any form of decomposition of the mRNA. However, the vaccine must be administered at room temperature because the mRNA needs to be mobile. 

When the MHRA issued authorisation for the vaccine to be used, it stipulated that each box could be moved and opened only a limited number of times before the vaccines were used.

And it said that until a detailed distribution plan is drawn up, the trays should not be split before the vaccines were ready to be used, making transporting them to care homes all but impossible.

It meant the initial doses were likely to have to be given out at one of 50 major hospitals across England and meant earlier plans to make care home residents the first to get the jab had to be put on hold. 

But health officials have now drawn up a new method to ensure it can get to the most vulnerable, by allowing the packs to be split up. Subject to approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), officials expect to be able to start rolling it out to care homes within a few days, and by Christmas at the latest.

Explaining the problem of getting the vaccine to care homes, Mr Hopson said: ‘So what you would need to do is break those 975 pizza boxes into smaller batches, and then the good news is, when we can do that, which we think we’ll be able to do really quite quickly, is we can then ask GPs to go in and administer the vaccine into care home residents. 

‘So what hospitals are doing is they’re working out today, yesterday, the day before, tomorrow, they’re going to be working out exactly how many of those care home staff, care home residents, and over-80s they can administer, they’re going to tell NHS England and Improvement what those figures are, and then the vaccines will be allocated depending upon how many people they can get through.’

Dr Fauci’s humbling apology came just hours after Joe Biden asked him to be his chief medical adviser – with some suggesting the next US president may have intervened. 

Dr Fauci, who is also under pressure from the Trump administration to explain why the US was beaten by Britain to approving a vaccine created in America, likened London’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to a marathon runner who cheats by joining ‘in the last mile’. 

And he raised safety questions over the speed at which the MHRA acted to approve the treatment, telling CBS News: ‘I love the Brits, they’re great, they’re good scientists, but they just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said: ”OK, let’s approve it, that’s it’.’ 

 

How Britain won the vaccine race

The MHRA's decision went through a series of panels before being approved by Dr June Raine, a career government scientist who has worked in drug licensing since 1985

The MHRA’s decision went through a series of panels before being approved by Dr June Raine, a career government scientist who has worked in drug licensing since 1985

Britain was able to pip the US and Europe to approve Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine first thanks to political feet-dragging on the continent and because Britain’s regulators had more scientific manpower, experts claim.

The breakthrough jab was given the green light by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) within just 10 days of receiving the results from its late stage trials.

The MHRA’s decision went through a series of panels before being approved by Dr June Raine, a career government scientist who has worked in drug licensing since 1985.

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America’s top coronavirus doctor has criticised the UK for and claimed the MHRA ‘just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said: ‘OK, let’s approve it, that’s it.”

EU nations have agreed not to use the emergency use authorisations that the UK used to bypass Brussels and green light the Pfizer vaccine, instead waiting for the EU regulator, the EMA, to issue a more rigorous approval that lasts for a year.

All three agencies have conducted rolling reviews of data provided by Pfizer as it comes in. The reviews started at the same time but some scientists claim the UK was more ‘organised’ and proactive in seeking additional data from Pfizer.

But after a barrage of anger from Britain, where critics accused him of aiding anti-vaxxers, Mr Fauci later clarified his remarks, saying: ‘I did not mean to imply any sloppiness on the part of the UK regulators, even though it came out that way, I apologise’, adding there was ‘no judgement on the way the UK did it. 

Dr Fauci added: ‘It came out wrong. I do have great faith in the scientific and regulatory community in the UK.’

He blamed the delay in the US on ‘too much scepticism’ about the process of approving vaccines in his country – making it slower – but added it was ‘no better or worse’ than the UK’s process. 

He said: ‘At the end of the day it’s going to be safe and effective, the people in the UK are going to receive it and do it and do well. And the people in the US will receive it and do well.’

The EU and US lashed out after the news that the UK will begin roll-out of the US/German drug to millions of vulnerable people next week, with the first deliveries arriving last night.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson mocked them as he insisted that Britain beat them to rolling out a coronavirus vaccine because it was simply ‘a much better country’. 

Dr June Raine, the head of the UK medicines regulator, has said ‘no corners had been cut’ while vetting the vaccine. 

Downing Street has joined in defending the UK’s medicines regulator after it faced criticism from America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, who warned the speed at which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved could undermine confidence in the jab.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters: ‘You will have seen that he (Dr Fauci) has now withdrawn those comments and apologised.

‘I would just point to the fact the MHRA is a world leader in its field and has followed rigorous international standards in terms of its assessment of the vaccine to ensure it meets the standards of safety and effectiveness and quality.

‘The CEO of the MHRA has been quite clear that no corners have been cut at all.’

The jab contains a fragile strand of RNA – the genetic material that carries messages between cells – sheathed in a droplet of fat. 

That makes it very unstable and means it needs to be stored at a super-cold -70C (-94F) to ensure it does not break down before it gets to patients. It can be kept in a normal fridge for up to five days – but must be used within six hours of being transported, even if kept between 2 and 8C.

Britain’s Covid R rate has fallen again for fourth week in a row and may now be as low as 0.8 

Britain’s coronavirus R rate has fallen for the fourth week in a row and could now be as low as 0.8, SAGE said today, suggesting that November’s lockdown made the outbreak shrink faster than at any time since August. 

And weekly Office for National Statistics data shows the number of daily infections in England plummeted by almost half last month from 47,700 per day to 25,700 in just three weeks. 

The report estimated that a total of 521,300 people were carrying the virus in England on November 28, down from 665,000 just two weeks earlier.

It proves the country’s second wave is in retreat and that lockdown worked. The national measures were lifted on Wednesday this week as the nation returned to its three-tier local system. 

SAGE said its R rate calculation – which shows how many people each coronavirus-infected person gives the virus to – proved cases were now declining in every region. It said: ‘Estimates of R and growth rates have fallen slightly in recent weeks, and estimated ranges for all NHS England regions have decreased compared to last week. It is the first time since early September that all English regions have had a lower limit of R estimates below 1.’

Separate infection estimates produced by the Covid Symptom Study suggest there are now just 15,845 people developing symptoms of coronavirus each day in England, down from a peak of 44,000 at the end of October. Although the numbers are different to those made by the ONS, they illustrate the same downward trend.

It came after it was last night revealed that Pfizer and partner BioNTech will only be able to ship half as many doses of its coronavirus vaccine as it promised by the end of the year, cutting its planned global roll-out from 100million to 50million doses. 

The companies had to walk back plans due to slowdowns in its supply chain, sources told the Wall Street Journal.

‘Scaling up the raw material supply chain took longer than expected,’ a company spokeswoman said.

‘And it’s important to highlight that the outcome of the clinical trial was somewhat later than the initial projection.’ 

Mr Sharma reiterated that the ‘bulk’ of vaccine roll-out would take place in 2021, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca version likely to considerably boost supply. Officials say it could be approved before Christmas.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We will expect more (Pfizer vaccine) by the end of the year but what we have always said is that the bulk of the vaccination programme will take place next year.

‘We’ve, of course, got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we’re talking about for deployment right now but AstraZeneca is also being reviewed by the MHRA.

‘We’ll see what they pronounce and then, of course, we’ve got 100million of those on order, and a lot of that is being manufactured – and the fill and finish – in the UK.’

In other twists and turns in Britain’s vaccine roll-out, Government sources last night claimed No10’s operation to get the vaccine into Britain was purposely kept a secret because of fears criminal gangs could ‘intercept and damage’ the supplies.

Questions were raised over whether or not the jab had reached British soil were raised after pictures emerged of lorries stuck in traffic jams outside the busy Calais port for several hours. 

Department of Health officials last night confirmed the vaccine had reached Folkestone — but refused to reveal any other details. 

No10 would not be pressed on details of transporting the vaccine for ‘security reasons’. 

Interpol yesterday warned about criminal gangs peddling black market jabs, while ministers have already piled pressure on social media giants Facebook and Instagram to crackdown on bogus anti-vaxx theories that officials have branded ‘nonsense’. 

Black Panther star slammed for posting anti-vax video online 

Black Panther star Letitia Wright was mercilessly crucified on Twitter on Thursday night after she posted a fact-free YouTube video that questioned the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Black Panther star Letitia Wright was mercilessly crucified on Twitter on Thursday night after she posted a fact-free YouTube video that questioned the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Black Panther star Letitia Wright was slammed by her Marvel co-star Don Cheadle on Thursday night after she posted a YouTube video that questioned the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The British actress posted the link to a video by British Youtuber Tomi Arayomi called ‘COVID-19 VACCINE, SHOULD WE TAKE IT?’ along with a prayer hand emoji late on Thursday night.

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Her post immediately sparked a fierce backlash with many asking fellow Marvel actor Don Cheadle to call 27-year-old Wright out for posting the misleading video.

In response, the actor called the video shared by Wright ‘hot garbage’ and what was said in it ‘F****d up.’

It comes after Black Panther star Letitia Wright was slammed by her Marvel co-star Don Cheadle last night after she posted a YouTube video that questioned the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The British actress posted the link to a video by British Youtuber Tomi Arayomi called ‘COVID-19 VACCINE, SHOULD WE TAKE IT?’ along with a prayer hand emoji late on Thursday night.

Her post immediately sparked a fierce backlash with many asking fellow Marvel actor Don Cheadle to call 27-year-old Wright out for posting the misleading video.

In response, the actor called the video shared by Wright ‘hot garbage’ and what was said in it ‘F****d up.’

After facing a growing backlash, Wright said it was not her intention to make anyone upset and that she wasn’t saying ‘don’t take’ the vaccine, but added ‘I’m just concerned about what’s in it that’s all. Isn’t that fair to question or ask?’

The video she shared was from On The Table – a YouTube channel presented by Tomi Arayomi, who says he has lived all his life in the UK with his dentist mother and consultant doctor father.

Arayomi describes himself as ‘a well recognised Prophet and the Managing Director of Prophetic Voice TV. An online mission that seeks to restore the ability to hear the voice of God to every person on every sphere of influence’.

He heads an organisation called ‘RIGnation’ that says it is ‘is a global movement focused on training prophets to be people and people to be prophets.’

‘Our aim is to raise 7,000 Apostles and Prophets from across the world who are ready to transform the world!’ 

It comes after a poll today found a huge majority of Britons want to see Boris Johnson take the coronavirus vaccine live on TV.

Research for MailOnline showed 58 per cent back the PM underlining his confidence about safety by having the jab on screen.

Just 16 per cent were against the idea – despite ministers voicing concerns about being seen to jump the queue.

The survey by Redfield & Wilton Strategies emerged as US president-elect Joe Biden indicated he is ready to be filmed getting vaccinated.

Nicola Sturgeon and Matt Hancock are among the other UK politicians who have said they would be willing to do so if it helps reassure the public.

The Government will compensate anyone who suffers severe side effects to the Covid-19 vaccine with payments of up to £120,000.

Officials authorised the roll-out of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine by granting it emergency approval.

The jab has been added to the Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme which was created in 1979 to assure the public about the safety of vaccines to prevent illnesses such as measles, influenza, smallpox and tetanus.

England’s second Covid wave is in retreat: ONS data shows daily cases HALVED during lockdown in November with just 25,700 people catching the virus every day by the end of the month

The number of daily coronavirus infections in England dropped by almost half during November’s lockdown from 47,700 per day to 25,700, official data confirmed today. 

A weekly Office for National Statistics report estimated that a total of 521,300 people were carrying the virus in England on November 28, down from 665,000 just two weeks earlier.

The data proves the country’s second wave is in retreat and that lockdown worked. The national measures were lifted on Wednesday this week as the nation returned to its three-tier local system.    

Separate estimates produced by the Covid Symptom Study suggest there are now just 15,845 people developing symptoms of coronavirus each day in England, down from a peak of 44,000 at the end of October.

Professor Tim Spector, the King’s College epidemiologist running that study, which is based on data from a public mobile app, said the signs were ‘encouraging’, adding: ‘We’re now [at] less than half the peak of the second wave we saw in October.’

Government advisers on SAGE are expected to publish their updated estimate of the R rate this afternoon, which is set to bolster evidence that Britain’s outbreak shrank drastically during November. Last week the panel said the R – which is backdated by around a fortnight – was between 0.9 and 1.0, and it is expected to decline further.

The good news comes as the UK gets set to become the first country in the world to start vaccinating people against Covid-19 next week after drug regulators gave the green light for a jab developed by pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech. The first doses were delivered on British soil yesterday via a convoy of lorries from Belgium.

The ONS’s mass testing programme, which took results from 217,411 swabs in the two weeks until November 28, found that 0.96 per cent of people were testing positive.

This is equal to around one in every 105 people and is the first time the positivity rate has been below one per cent since early October.

Cases are still highest in the North of England. In Yorkshire and the Humber, which was worst affected as the country emerged from lockdown, 1.7 per cent of people tested positive – one in 59.

North East, North West, East Midlands and West Midlands all also had rates higher than the England average, which was one per cent exactly.

The southern regions all had lower positive test rates, with the lowest in the East of England where it was 0.4 per cent.

How long until Britain’s gets its hands on Oxford’s Covid vaccine? 

Britain could start using Oxford University’s coronavirus before Christmas, if it gets approved by drug regulators in a decision that could come within the next week.

The MHRA this week became the first agency in the world to green-light a Covid-19 vaccine for public use when it approved one made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

And it is now evaluating the jab developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca after being instructed by the Department of Health on November 27. Scientists behind the jab have already submitted the final trial results to a medical journal, which are expected to be published imminently.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the jab — which No10 has ordered 100million doses of — would ‘hopefully be approved before Christmas’.

It took regulators eight working days to give Pfizer’s vaccine the go-ahead after the Department of Health officially requested they evaluate it. If AstraZeneca’s can be done in the same time frame, a decision could be announced as soon as Tuesday next week, December 8.

The jab would likely be ready to go within days when it is eventually approved – it is being manufactured in England and is easy to transport because it can be stored in normal fridges or even at room temperature.

The other of the trio of promising vaccines – made by US-based company Moderna – is a step behind in the approval process but will not be available in Britain until March 2021 at the earliest.

Ministers scrambled to buy seven million doses of Moderna’s vaccine only after the company announced that clinical trials suggested it was 94.5 per cent effective.

The MHRA – Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency – has not yet been officially ordered to start evaluating it.

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