COVID-19 vaccines hold the key to the road back towards normality
- Credit: Archant
Hopes for a return to more normal lives for all have soared with news of the vaccine roll-out. Here, medical experts unite in their reassurance to the public that vaccines meet strict standards of safety and effectiveness.
PROFESSOR JONATHAN VAN-TAM, DEPUTY CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER FOR ENGLAND The differences between these new vaccines and traditional ones are not that great. All vaccines work by mimicking the infection, tricking the body to believe you’ve got the infection so you then produce antibodies. Once you’ve got the antibodies, when you meet the real thing, your immune system can spring straight back into action. These vaccines have been through phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3 clinical trials like ordinary vaccines. The numbers of people involved in the trials were the same as you would expect for a normal ‘peacetime’ vaccine. The safety assessments and the assessments of effectiveness at the end are the same. As Dr Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said “safety is our watchword”. That’s the most important thing. All the results we have so far show us the vaccine prevents infection that causes symptoms. The other thing that’s really important to people trying to deal with this public emergency is the effect coronavirus has on overwhelming hospital systems. We’re hopeful all the vaccines that are proven to be effective will not only reduce illness and disease but will take out severe disease that puts people in hospital. Every single vaccine for use in the UK has been authorised by the MHRA. The three components of authorisation are safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality. All three have to have a tick before being authorised. I don’t care which of the vaccines we’ve seen so far with good efficacy signals I have, providing the MHRA has authorised it, I’ll be having it.
DR JUNE RAINE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MEDICINES AND HEALTHCARE PRODUCTS REGULATORY AGENCY The public can be completely confident COVID-19 vaccines will only be available once they have met robust standards of safety, quality and effectiveness. Clinical trials have been done on many tens of thousands of people and we’re particularly careful to make sure they are representative to include different populations and age groups. It’s my role as CEO to make absolutely sure our assessors have the time and space to do their job. I can be completely clear that rigorous safety standards and tests are done throughout the approval process in the shortest time possible, without compromising the thoroughness of our review. What we’ve seen is if you’re vaccinated you are less likely to spread COVID-19. It’s up to all of us to think about the vulnerable, the elderly, people who we treasure in our family and do our bit to make sure that we can get back to normal life.
PROFESSOR WEI SHEN LIM, CHAIR OF JOINT COMMITTEE ON VACCINATION AND IMMUNISATION COVID-19 VACCINE SUB-COMMITTEE We are currently using social distancing measures to try to suppress the virus. If we can replace the protection of social distancing by vaccines, and let’s say a vaccine allowed so much protection that it was like a full lockdown, then one could say, ‘Well, I’ve got a vaccine. I don’t need to have quite so many social distancing measures in place’ and that will take us closer to normal. Whether or not we can get back to the full normal obviously will depend on how much vaccine is available, when it’s used, how it is used and so on. We need to make sure we help people understand how important it is to have the vaccine. The vaccine will be offered first to vulnerable people. There is good reason to have the vaccine. My advice is, when offered the vaccine, don’t wait three weeks before having it. Vaccine approved for use Who will get it first? Priority groups (correct at 27 November 2020) *Elderly care-home residents and staff *80 years+, health and social care workers *75 years and over *70 years of age and over, plus clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, excluding pregnant women and those under 18 years of age *65 years and over *At-risk adults under 65 *60 years and over *55 years and over *50 years and over
Are they being rushed too quickly? Vaccines are going through the normal three phases of clinical trial involving thousands of people and a very thorough regulatory process. But the Government paid for the vaccines up front so they would be ready if approved and the companies and regulator have made COVID-19 vaccines their top priority. Strict standards are met The UK Government has now accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/ BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use. This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness. The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination. The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week. When it’s your turn, you will receive a notification.