- Jonathan Van Tam insists extending the gap between doses is the best way to save lives
- First supplies of the Oxford vaccine arrived in hospital ahead of the rollout on Monday
- 15million jabs needed to vaccinate the most vulnerable could be available by mid-March
The scientist leading the UK coronavirus vaccination programme has defended the decision to extend the gap between the two doses, insisting it is 'the way we save lives'.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam says waiting 12 weeks between jabs rather than the original three will protect those most at risk of dying from Covid-19, adding that the focus must be 'to deliver first vaccine doses to as many people, in the shortest possible timeframe'.
As the first supplies of the Oxford vaccine arrived in the UK yesterday, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer – who has become the trusted face of Downing Street press conferences during the crisis – predicted that 'tens of millions of doses' will be available by the end of March.A senior Government source last night said that the 15 million jabs needed to protect those most at risk could be delivered by mid-March. Vaccinating that vulnerable group is seen as crucial in releasing Britain from the crippling effects of lockdown.
Writing exclusively in The Mail on Sunday, Prof Van-Tam rejects criticism that changing the period between the two doses of the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines is confusing and potentially dangerous.
'Simply put, every time we vaccinate someone a second time, we are not vaccinating someone else for the first time,' he says. 'It means we are missing an opportunity to greatly reduce the chances of the most vulnerable people getting severely ill from Covid-19.'
In his article for this newspaper, Prof Van-Tam says the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has found the Pfizer vaccine to be 89 per cent effective against Covid-19 from between 15 and 21 days after the first dose.
That rises to 95 per cent after a second dose, but he argues that extra six per cent comes at the cost of halving the number who can get a large degree of immunity from a single jab.
He adds: 'If a family has two elderly grandparents and there are two vaccines available, it is better to give both 89 per cent protection than to give one 95 per cent protection with two quick doses, and the other grandparent no protection at all. The virus is unfortunately spreading fast, and this is a race against time.
'My mum, as well as you or your older loved ones, may be affected by this decision, but it is still the right thing to do for the nation as a whole.'
His intervention came as:
- Boris Johnson hailed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as 'a triumph of British science';
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more than a million shots had so far been administered, with a fifth of those aged over 80 already given their first dose;
- Government sources said Ministers planned to 'step on the gas' by delivering up to 1.5 million vaccines this week and reach the 2 million-a-week target by February;
- The Armed Forces are to deploy 150 mobile vaccination teams, including some on helicopters, to help deliver jabs as part of what has been dubbed 'Operation Delta Force';
- A record 57,725 new infections were recorded yesterday, up from 35,691 a week ago, and a further 445 deaths were reported, almost double the death toll from last Saturday;
- Professor Andrew Goddard, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, warned the number of people in hospital was currently 'mild' compared to what he expects the NHS to face this week;
- The stand-off over schools reopening intensified, with unions telling primary teachers it is unsafe to return to work this week, and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, using a Mail on Sunday article to call on staff to 'move heaven and earth to get children back to the classroom';
- German firm BioNTech said the EU had failed to order more doses of the vaccine it developed with Pfizer, as it emerged France had only delivered 352 jabs after European regulators were slow to approve its use.
In Britain, medics will start using the initial 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab from tomorrow. The first will be administered at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
By the end of the week, vaccines will be available at 160 hospital sites and 800 GP surgeries. Community pharmacies will also be used to deliver jabs.
The programme cannot be rolled out fast enough for crisis-hit schools and hospitals. Half of the major hospital trusts in England are dealing with more Covid-19 patients than they were at the peak of the first wave in April, and 29 out of 39 NHS Trusts have postponed most elective surgery.
Meanwhile, Ministers are considering proposals to make teachers a higher priority for vaccines in a bid to end the schools stand-off.
More Left-wing councils yesterday said they would not allow classrooms to reopen, while the row created fresh splits within Labour, with Corbynista MPs backing the unions, but party leader Sir Keir Starmer failing to endorse their stance.
The Government last week changed its policy on administering a second jab following advice from the JCVI supported by Chief Medical Officers across the UK.
However, the British Medical Association echoed the concern of some family doctors that the move was misguided. On Friday, Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA's GP committee, said: 'The existing commitment made to these patients by the NHS and local clinicians should be respected.
'If GPs decide to honour these booked appointments in January, the BMA will support them.'
Welcoming the arrival of the first batch of Oxford vaccines, Mr Johnson said: 'We know there are challenges still ahead of us over the coming weeks and months, but I'm confident this is the year we will defeat coronavirus and start building back better.'
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens added: 'The vaccination programme – the biggest in NHS history – has got off to a strong start, and by New Year's Day we'd been able to vaccinate more people than the rest of Europe combined. Now we have a second, more versatile, jab in our armoury.'
Meanwhile, security agencies have warned Ministers that disinformation about the 12-week gap between jabs could be used by Britain's enemies to create 'panic'.
One Government source said: 'All the usual suspects will be trying to sow doubt.'
'It's better to give two grandparents 89% protection than to give one 95% and the other none at all'
By Jonathan Van-Tam
- Deploying second vaccine is another achievement for science and public health in effort to tackle Covid-19
- Hard work of researchers and scientists, and selflessness of volunteers in trials will soon begin to save lives
- Priority is to deliver first vaccine doses to as many people on Phase 1 priority list in shortest timeframe
Last week, the UK became the first country in the world to authorise the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and this week we'll be the first to start using it to inoculate people against Covid-19 – having already given more than a million people an initial first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Deploying this second vaccine is another huge achievement for science and public health in the global effort to tackle Covid-19.
The hard work of the researchers and scientists, and the selflessness of volunteers throughout months of rigorous clinical trials, will soon begin to save lives.
The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that at this stage of the pandemic, the priority should be to deliver first vaccine doses to as many people on the Phase 1 priority list in the shortest possible timeframe – and myself and the UK's four Chief Medical Officers agree with that recommendation.
It means across the UK, the NHS will now prioritise giving the first dose of the vaccine to those in the most high-risk groups, with a second dose due to be administered within 12 weeks of the first.
The flexibility to extend the time period between the two doses was a critical decision, made by the regulator – and one which allows us to save more lives, based on the latest advice from the independent experts of the JCVI.
Their analysis shows the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 89 per cent effective against preventing Covid-19 in the period from 15 to 21 days after the first dose.
Science experts know that if you have protection as high as 89 per cent on Day 21, it is not really possible that this would have declined by much after just 84 days, or 12 weeks. If a vaccine is that good, antibody levels simply don't drop away that fast.
The evidence clearly shows vaccinated individuals get almost complete protection after the first dose.
Simply put, every time we vaccinate someone a second time, we are not vaccinating someone else for the first time.
It means we are missing an opportunity to greatly reduce the chances of the most vulnerable people getting severely ill from Covid-19.
If a family has two elderly grandparents and there are two vaccines available, it is better to give both 89 per cent protection than to give one 95 per cent protection with two quick doses, and the other grandparent no protection at all.
The virus is unfortunately spreading fast, and this is a race against time. My mum, as well as you or your older loved ones, may be affected by this decision, but it is still the right thing to do for the nation as a whole.
The UK has taken action to secure as many vaccine doses as possible with early access to 357 million doses of seven of the most promising vaccines so far. We have 530,000 quality-checked doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca available in the UK from tomorrow, with more available this month and tens of millions by the end of March.
But we know there is global pressure on the supply of all of these vaccines.
So by prioritising the first dose, we can give more people a high level of protection sooner, without compromising their immunity in the longer term.
This is the way we save the most lives and avoid the most hospital admissions – it is as simple as that.
This is especially vital at the moment, given the high levels of infection we are seeing in the midst of the most difficult time of year for our NHS.
Those working on wards in the last week will know how serious this is, and how it is right we prioritise giving protection to as many people who need it as possible.
I understand this decision may cause some inconvenience and worry for those who had their second doses booked in but I can assure all Mail on Sunday readers that we have not taken it lightly.
We have to do the best we can, with what we have now, to protect the largest number of vulnerable people in the shortest possible time.
The decision we have taken will literally double the number of people who are protected over the next few crucial months.
Boris Johnson hails Oxford vaccine as a 'triumph for British science' and says he is 'confident this is the year we will defeat coronavirus'
- First batches of much-anticipated jab yesterday began arriving at UK hospitals
- Hundreds of new vaccination sites will begin to provide injections this week
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock says vaccine roll-out means 'the end is in sight'
By ANNA MIKHAILOVA and BRENDAN CARLIN and STEPHEN ADAMS FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
The first batches yesterday began arriving at UK hospitals, including the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, where laboratory technician Lukasz Najdrowski carefully removed the packs of vials from a cardboard box.
With an initial 530,000 doses available from tomorrow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the addition of the Oxford vaccine to the Pfizer drug which has been in use since December 8 meant 'the end is in sight'.
About two-thirds of the million doses delivered UK-wide by New Year's Eve have been used to vaccinate those over 80, meaning about a fifth of that highly vulnerable age group have received their first jab.
Mr Hancock added: 'The vaccine is our way out and this huge achievement brings us a step closer to the normality we've all been working hard to reclaim.'
Hundreds of new vaccination sites will begin to provide injections this week, joining 700 already in operation.
'The Oxford vaccine is a triumph of British science and I want to thank everyone involved in its development and production,' the Prime Minister said.
'From tomorrow, the NHS will start using the Oxford vaccine to give protection against Covid-19.'
The deployment of the Oxford vaccine will accelerate the programme as, unlike the Pfizer drug, it does not need to be stored at very cold temperatures so is far easier to distribute.
The first doses of the Oxford jab will be given at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Five other trusts – Brighton, Nuneaton, Lancaster and two in London – will also start providing injections from tomorrow, ahead of it being rolled out to other hospitals and GP surgeries.
By the end of this week, 160 hospital sites across England plus more than 800 GP surgeries should be offering Covid vaccinations. Jabs are also being given at dozens more hospitals and scores more surgeries across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ministers are keen to 'step on the gas' to ensure that the 15 million people most at risk from Covid-19 get their dose within the next ten weeks. A source said the Government hoped to deliver up to 1.5 million vaccines this week alone – comprising the 530,000 Oxford doses and a million Pfizer shots.
That should rise to two million a week from early February – the rate seen as necessary to prevent a devastating third wave.
To help speed up the process, community pharmacies will be used alongside hospitals and GP surgeries from next week.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the arrival of the Oxford vaccine marked 'a major milestone in humanity's battle against coronavirus'.
He added: 'The vaccination programme – the biggest in NHS history – has got off to a strong start, and by New Year's Day we'd been able to vaccinate more people than the rest of Europe combined. Now we have a second, more versatile, jab in our armoury, and NHS staff are expanding the programme as extra vaccine supplies come on-stream, and the arrival of the Oxford jab, coupled with more Pfizer vaccine being made available, will allow us to protect many more people faster.'
The initial supplies of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been produced by a company called Halix in the Netherlands.
Once produced in bulk, the vaccine goes to a plant in Wrexham, run by an Indian company called Wockhardt, where it is decanted into vials in a process known as 'fill and finish'. The plant can bottle at least 150,000 doses a day.
The team at Oxford's specialist vaccines and immunology centre, the Jenner Institute, developed the Covid-19 vaccine by adapting one they were already working on for a related coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has criticised a Labour MP who attacked the decision to change the policy on administering second doses.
After the Government said the second jab would be given 12 weeks after the first, rather than three, Clive Lewis tweeted: 'Next they'll be suggesting the second vaccine dose can be substituted with bleach.' Mr Zahawi replied: 'Clive, this is irresponsible of you.'
Britain records more than 50,000 coronavirus cases for the FIFTH day in a row - but deaths dip to 445 - as doctors warn crisis will get much worse and situation in packed London hospitals is 'MILD compared to what's coming next week'
By James Gant for MailOnline
Britain has recorded more than 50,000 Covid-19 cases for the fifth day in a row but hospital deaths from the virus have dipped to fewer than 500.
Another 57,725 had positive test results in the last 24 hours, meaning 2,599,789 have had the disease in the UK since the pandemic began.
The country also saw an additional 445 deaths, taking the total official count to 74,570 - but 90,000 people in total have died with Covid-19 written on their death certificate.
And experts are warning jam-packed hospitals that the current number of coronavirus cases is 'mild' compared to what is coming next week - as the new more-contagious Covid strain continues to wreak havoc on the UK.
President of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Andrew Goddard also noted healthcare workers in Britain are 'really worried' about the battle against the virus over the next few months.
Today's grim figures come as the first batches of the newly-approved coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca arrive at UK hospitals ahead of the jab's rollout tomorrow.
Some 530,000 doses of the jab will be available from Monday - with vulnerable people taking priority - as Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the inoculation drive is 'accelerating'.
One of the first hospitals to take delivery of a batch on Saturday morning was the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, which is part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.
But Sir John Bell, a Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and member of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), said insufficient investment in the capacity to make vaccines has left Britain unprepared.
He also said the country lacks medical supply firms to build essential components to make the jab, forcing Oxford scientists to import parts from abroad.
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty this week warned that vaccine availability issues will 'remain the case for several months' - as the 530,000 doses ready for distribution are a fraction of what was promised.
Officials initially said that 30million doses would be ready by the end of the year. The UK's vaccine tsar toned the estimate down to 4million in November, citing manufacturing problems.
India, on the other hand, preparing to deliver 50million doses of the Oxford vaccine that it has manufactured and stockpiled.
In other Covid news:
- Pfizer and AstraZeneca rejected Government warnings of months-long vaccine supply gaps, claiming there will be enough doses to hit the ambitious targets;
- Coronavirus vaccine makers blasted the EU for being too slow to secure stocks of the jab as pressure mounts on France and Germany to speed up immunisation;
- A teaching union has called for all schools across the country to be closed for the start of the new term;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock thanked 'everyone playing their part' as he revealed more than one million people have been vaccinated;
- The UK today announced a further 57,725 cases - marking five days in a row that there have been more than 50,000 positive tests.