First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

It’s here! Officials confirm Pfizer’s Covid jab has arrived in Britain after secret ‘operation’ to get first batch of doses through the Eurotunnel in a fleet of unmarked lorries

  • Initial batches of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are already heading to Britain after it was approved by UK regulators
  • Vaccine will be distributed at hospitals first, and then GPs and city hubs in stadiums and conference centres 
  • The UK has ordered 40million doses in total, with several million due by end of 2020 and the rest next year
  • Have you been invited to be vaccinated next week? Email martin.robinson@mailonline.co.uk, tips@dailymail.com or call 0203 615 1866

By Stephen Matthews Health Editor and Sam Blanchard Senior Health Reporter For Mailonline

Published: 10:04, 3 December 2020 | Updated: 18:36, 3 December 2020

Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine has finally reached Britain after a ‘top secret’ operation to transport the first batch of doses on the Eurotunnel in a fleet of unmarked lorries, officials confirmed today.

Government sources say Number 10 was being tight-lipped over the precise location of the precious cargo amid fears criminal gangs could ‘intercept and damage’ the supplies, which England’s deputy chief medical officer this morning claimed would arrive within ‘hours’. 

But questions over whether or not the prized 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 tonight confirmed the vaccine had reached Folkestone — but refused to reveal any other details.

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 being wheeled off to arrive at NHS hospitals and makeshift centres.

No10 would not be pressed on details of transporting the vaccine for ‘security reasons’. MailOnline was told that Downing St has purposely kept quiet about the exact locations of the lorries because of the ‘massive risk criminal gangs could intercept and damage’ the supplies, which were originally shipped from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Belgium.

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’.

Britain yesterday became the first country in the world to approve the jab, after regulators gave it the green light in the wake of evidence showing it was up to 95 per cent effective and safe.

It prompted a major international row, with both the EU and the United States lashing out at the speed at which it was approved. Donald Trump’s top medic Dr Anthony Fauci accused the UK drug regulator of failing to adequately scrutinize data from manufacturers.

But both the MHRA — the regulatory body that pored over thousands of pages of data before giving the jab the green-light — and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hit back at the claims, with the latter insisting that Britain beat the world to a coronavirus vaccine because it was ‘a much better country’.

It comes amid mounting confusion over No10’s priority list, after advisers revealed care home residents would be at the front of the queue.

Officials have since conceded they may have to wait because of the logistical nightmare of transporting the fragile vaccine.

Hospital patients over the age of 80, social care workers and NHS workers are likely to get bumped to the front of the line in the meantime because the regulator has yet to approve splitting up the batches of the vaccine, which currently comes in packs of between 975 and 4,875 doses.

Scotland’s health minister, however, confirmed care home residents north of the border will start to get vaccines from December 14. Jeane Freeman claimed that Scottish officials would be able to break down the jab into smaller packages to distribute them ‘with minimum wastage’.

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.

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Five-hour queues of lorries have been pictured on the motorway leading into the port near Calais, France, waiting to board the Eurotunnel today as a convoy tried to transport the vaccine to Britain. It is not yet known whether the vaccine transports were stuck in traffic

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Hundreds of trucks were stranded in gridlock on the A16 motorway as freighters transporting the Pfizer vaccine to the UK tried to make their way to the UK. It is not yet known whether the vaccine transports were stuck in traffic

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Government sources told MailOnline there was a ‘massive risk’ that the first batch of doses could be targeted on its journey from a Belgian manufacturing plant to the UK, via the Eurotunnel in a fleet of unmarked lorries (pictured, a lorry entering the UK from the Eurotunnel – it is not clear if it was carrying Pfizer’s jab)

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Pfizer has now started shipping its coronavirus vaccine to the UK after the British regulator MHRA gave it the green light yesterday (Pictured: A refrigerated truck is photographed leaving a Pfizer factory in Puurs, Belgium, yesterday)

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

A refrigerated van is pictured driving out of a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, yesterday (December 3)

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

The drill, code-named Exercise Panacea, took place at Ashton Gate football and rugby stadium in Bristol

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said this morning that the first doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine would arrive in Britain within hours

The Pfizer vaccine is packaged in 1.5ml vials that each have five doses each inside them.

But the MHRA, which regulates the safety of drugs and vaccines, has not yet given permission for these to be split into smaller batches.

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.

And it has now emerged that NHS health workers, officially second in line for the vaccine, are not likely to get it before Christmas in order to protect the limited supplies. NHS sources told the Health Service Journal that only a small number of health staff are now expected to get the jab this year, in areas where public demand is lower.

NHS England’s chief executive Sir Simon Stevens last night said that he expects the MHRA to work out a way to break down the deliveries so Britain could ‘start distributing to care homes’ as soon as smaller batches are approved.

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. 

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning Professor Van-Tam said: ‘We currently expect to receive [the first doses] very, very shortly in the UK, and I do mean hours, not days.’

He also said that he had told his elderly mother to get the vaccine, revealing: ‘I genuinely have said to my 78-year-old mum, who’s probably listening now: “Mum, you must have this vaccine, or any of the vaccines that the MHRA approves as soon as they are available. This is really important, because you are so at risk”.’ 

Fifty hospitals are poised to roll out the coronavirus inoculations when the first of the UK’s 40million pre-ordered doses are administered from next week.

The Midlands will have 13 hospitals running vaccinations, along with eight each in the North West, South East and South West, seven in the East of England, seven in London, and only one apiece in the Yorkshire and North East regions. 

The Army held a trial run at one of the first mass vaccination sites in Bristol where tens of thousands of patients will be immunised, as NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens warned the logistics will be ‘complicated’.  

The current advice is that the vaccine must be kept at -70?C (-94?F) until shortly before it is used, meaning storage has to be meticulously controlled for the entire distribution and storage process. 

Temperature is so important because the vaccine is made with genetic material, which breaks down rapidly in the wrong conditions. Freezing the material – known scientifically as RNA – keeps it stable and ensures the vaccine will work as well as it did in lab trials.

Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine should only be in transport at normal fridge temperatures for a maximum of six hours before it becomes unstable and may not work.

The companies will only allow the vaccine to be distributed in trays of 195 vials because this is understood to be the smallest quantity that they have lab-tested to make sure the liquid remains stable during transport.

Each vial contains five doses, and shippers can move, at most, five of these trays at a time.

This means it is only provably safe to deliver between 975 and 4,875 doses in one go.

Further tests are ongoing to work out whether the batches can safely be broken down into smaller packages, and to see if it will remain stable at higher temperatures, requiring less strict storage.

How Britain won the vaccine race

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.

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.

Smaller batches would allow the vaccines to be delivered to local centres and care homes but they cannot be used until drugs regulators – the MHRA in Britain – have seen proof that it will not affect how well the jab works. 

Care home managers warned of ‘confusion and raised expectations’ among vulnerable people after they were expecting first access to the jabs.

The Welsh government has highlighted the problem saying ‘in practical terms at this stage that we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes’. 

But BioNTech, the German firm that produced the vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, said it was ‘confident’ there would be solutions to the issue – saying that when stationary the supplies are stable at higher temperatures for five days.

As the problems crystallised this morning, Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they were having to ‘temper’ the prioritisation list.  

‘We are trying to find ways to get the vaccines to the people, but at the moment the people will be moving towards the vaccine,’ he said.

‘We have to temper the prioritisation… absolutely people in care homes who have suffered quite significantly in the previous waves of coronavirus are a priority.

‘But we have to temper that with the operational reality of how we can safely manage and deliver the vaccine.

Dr Atherton said the UK governments were all looking at ways of getting the jabs into care homes. 

Asked whether care home residents might end up having to wait for the Astrazeneca and Oxford vaccines, Dr Atherton said: ‘The Oxford AZ vaccine would be easier to move through the supply chain, to get it close to people, to get it into local surgeries and then into care homes. That is a fact.

‘But with the Pfizer vaccine there is still a lot we have to to learn as we start to distribute it…

As that happens we may be able to change our delivery mechanism.’ 

Stringent requirements for storage mean hospitals equipped with ultra-cold freezers have been called upon to act as ‘hubs’ where the first people will receive jabs.

The WHO is looking at e-vaccination certificates to let people who have been given the jab travel

The World Health Organization is looking at ‘e-vaccination’ certificates to allow people given the coronavirus vaccine to travel, a representative said on Thursday.

But the UN’s health body also said antibodies in people who have recovered from Covid-19 should not qualify for so called ‘immunity passports’.

Therefore, the WHO recommended countries do not issue such passports to people who have recovered from the virus, and also said it did not recommend allowing people to cross borders based on testing.

‘We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this COVID-19 response, one of them how we can work with member states toward an e-vaccination certificate,’ said Siddhartha Datta, Europe’s WHO programme manager for vaccine-preventable diseases, told reporters on a call from Copenhagen.

Estonia and the United Nations health agency in October started a pilot project for a digital vaccine certificate – a ‘smart yellow card’ – for eventual use in shared healthcare data tracking and to strengthen the WHO-backed COVAX initiative to boost vaccinations in developing countries.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said its vaccine priority list was designed to be ‘flexible’.

‘Our clear remit was to decide on prioritisation groups but that there were going to be vaccine product storage, transport and administration constraints, and individual local circumstances,’ he said.

‘We have advised in our statement that there is flexibility at an approach to this list according to what was actually feasible and logistical on the ground, so this is not wholly unexpected, but the clear list that we have drawn out is a list of priority in terms of vulnerability.’

Britain has become the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine for public use and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson claimed in a bizarre interview this morning that this was because the UK is a ‘better country’ than France, the US or Belgium.

Speaking on LBC Radio, the Mr Williamson said: ‘Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

‘That doesn’t surprise me at because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.’

Pressed by presenter Nick Ferrari to be clearer on the issue of whether Brexit did help, he added: ‘I think just being able to get on with things, deliver it and the brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the western world to get that Pfizer, in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.

‘Real competitive advantage, but do you know who it’s down to? It’s down to those brilliant, brilliant clinicians in the regulator who’s made it happen so fast, so our thanks go out to them because by doing want they’ve done, they’re going to have saved lives.’ 

Mr Williamson’s brash comments came after the US’s infectious diseases director Dr Anthony Fauci last night accused Britain of rushing the jab through.

Dr Fauci told Fox News: ‘If you go quickly and you do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated.

‘We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The UK did not do it as carefully.

They got a couple of days ahead. I don’t think that makes much difference. We’ll be there, we’ll be there very soon.’

Amid concerns that people won’t take the vaccine, Government ministers in the UK are reportedly pressuring social media sites to prevent lies and false conspiracy theories being posted on their pages.

British law could be updated to bring in sanctions for companies that allow ‘harmful’ content about vaccines to stay up on their websites, The Telegraph reported.

A Government source told the newspaper: ‘Vaccine disinformation is a menace which risks our ability to bounce back from this virus.

We’ve been putting the onus on social media firms to knock down and remove vile nonsense about Covid-19 on their sites, but they must step up their efforts in this critical phase.’ 

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Members of staff inside the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium, are pictured wearing face masks yesterday.

The US-based company, along with German partner BioNTech, has become the first in the world to get a coronavirus vaccine into public use

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

The full list of hospitals where Pfizer jabs will be given to the first British recipients were revealed last night as the UK military carried out dry-run drills for the country’s biggest-ever mass vaccination 

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Gavin Williamson claims UK is ‘better’ than the EU and US after approving the jab

Gavin Williamson waded into the row over whether Brexit helped Britain move faster to roll out a coronavirus vaccine today, claiming that the UK was simply ‘a much better country’ than its rivals.

The Education Secretary lashed out at the US, France and Belgium in an astonishing broadside in a radio interview this morning.

Ministers have faced a backlash after several, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, claimed the split from the EU and less red tape meant the UK beat the rest of the world to approve the new coronavirus vaccine.

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Gavin Williamson 

European figures dismissed the idea, as did the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Asked about the comments today on LBC radio, Mr Williamson said: ‘Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

‘That doesn’t surprise me at because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.’

Pressed by presenter Nick Ferrari to be clearer on the issue of whether Brexit did help, he added: ‘I think just being able to get on with things, deliver it and the brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the western world to get that Pfizer, in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.

‘Real competitive advantage, but do you know who it’s down to? It’s down to those brilliant, brilliant clinicians in the regulator who’s made it happen so fast, so our thanks go out to them because by doing want they’ve done, they’re going to have saved lives.’

The Government’s dry run drill of the vaccination programme, code-named Exercise Panacea, took place at Ashton Gate football and rugby stadium in Bristol yesterday.

Approximately seven similar regional hubs will be used to vaccinate the wider population as GP surgeries target at-risk patients and hospitals are used to immunise NHS and care home staff, as well as some patients. 

In yesterday’s exercise 30 staff and volunteers were looped through the building pretending to be different types of patients, from one suffering an adverse reaction to one with symptoms or one who won’t get the jab.

It is planned that vaccinations will be given at the stadium 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Other venues being prepared to be used as regional hubs include the Nightingale Hospital at London’s ExCeL Centre, Leicester Racecourse and Manchester Tennis and Football Centre.  

The NHS is expecting to immunise between 75,000 and 110,000 people a week at the stadium and other local facilities in Bristol and neighbouring North Somerset and South Gloucestershire between now and April.

The drill yesterday followed an earlier ‘live play field exercise’ code-named Exercise Asclepius that took place at Epsom Downs Racecourse in October to ‘gauge the capabilities’ of mass vaccination centres.   

The Pfizer jab will be distributed at hospitals first, then GP surgeries and cities via stadiums and conference centres.  

Doses – which have to be packed in dry ice – are coming from Belgium to a central warehouse in the UK, from which they will be sent to NHS hospitals around the country.  

Officials warned they couldn’t promise care homes would get the vaccine before anyone else, admitting ‘whether or not that is actually doable depends on deployment and implementation’. 

Sir Simon said in yesterday’s TV briefing: ‘The vaccine that has been approved for the NHS to deploy today, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, has been independently shown to be medically safe, but it is logistically complicated.

‘We have to move it around the country in a carefully controlled way initially at minus 70 degrees centigrade, or thereabouts, and there are a limited number of further movements that we are allowed by the regulator to make.

‘It also comes in packs of 975 people’s doses so you can’t at this point just distribute it to every individual GP surgery or pharmacy as we normally would for many of the other vaccines available on the NHS.

‘So the phasing of delivery, the way we will do it, is that next week around 50 hospital hubs across England will start offering the vaccine to the over-80s and to care home staff and others identified by the JCVI typically they may be people who were already down to come into hospital next week for an outpatient appointment.

‘So if you are going to be one of those people next week or in the weeks that follow the hospital will get in touch with you, you don’t need to do anything about it yourself.’   

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

In yesterday’s exercise 30 staff and volunteers were looped through the building pretending to be different types of patients, from one suffering an adverse reaction to one with symptoms or one who won’t get the jab

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

Pfizer’s ‘freezer farm’ – a warehouse the size of a football pitch that is storing finished Covid vaccines in Puurs, Belgium

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

To keep doses of the jab at this ultra-low temperature, they needs to be packaged with dry ice and placed in a special transport box the size of a suitcase (an example currently in Belgium is pictured) 

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

He added:  ‘If the MHRA, the independent regulator, as we expect they will, give approval for a safe way of splitting these packs of 975 doses then the good news is we will be able to start distributing those to care homes.

‘And then as even more vaccine becomes available finally we will be able to switch on large vaccination centres across the country and indeed invite local community pharmacists probably at the beginning of January to begin to offer vaccination as well.’

The 50 NHS hospitals that will start rolling out the vaccine 

  • Blackpool Teaching Hospitals
  • Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals
  • Cambridge University Hospitals
  • Chesterfield Royal Hospital
  • Countess of Chester Hospital
  • Croydon University Hospital
  • Dartford and Gravesham Hospitals
  • Dorset County Hospitals
  • East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals
  • East Kent Hospitals
  • East Suffolk and North Essex Hospitals
  • Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Gloucestershire Hospitals
  • Great Western Hospitals
  • Guys & St Thomas NHS Trust
  • James Paget University Hospitals
  • Kings College Hospital
  • Princess Royal University Hospital, Kings
  • Lancashire Teaching Hospital
  • Leeds Teaching Hospital
  • Leicester Partnership NHS Trust
  • Liverpool University Hospitals
  • Medway NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mid and South Essex Hospitals
  • Milton Keynes University Hospital
  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
  • Northampton General Hospital
  • North Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
  • North West Anglia Foundation Trust
  • Nottingham University Hospitals
  • Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Portsmouth Hospital University
  • Royal Cornwall Hospitals
  • Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
  • Sherwood Forest Hospitals
  • Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust
  • Stockport NHS Foundation Trust
  • St George’s University Hospitals
  • The Newcastle Upon Type Hospitals
  • University College Hospitals
  • University Hospitals Birmingham
  • University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire
  • University Hospitals Derby Burton
  • University Hospitals of North Midlands
  • University Hospitals Plymouth
  • United Lincolnshire Hospitals
  • Walsall Healthcare
  • West Hertfordshire Hospitals
  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital
  • Worcestershire Acute Hospitals
  • Yeovil District Hospital

This is how the vaccine roll-out could look:

  1. Next week: 50 hospitals around the UK will be set up as the first vaccination hubs and are expected to start work next week, the week beginning December 7.

    Patients over the age of 80 and health and care workers are expected to be the first people to be invited for vaccinations at hospitals.

  2. Following weeks: The NHS’s chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said he expected that doctors surgeries would be able to start offering vaccines to vulnerable people in the ‘subsequent weeks’.
  3. This month: The Government and NHS will have to get extra permission from the drugs regulator, the MHRA, to break down the vaccines into batches smaller than 975 doses at a time. Officials must wait for this approval before they can take the jabs out into care homes, because transporting them in any way that is less than perfect could make the vaccine unstable and stop it working once it is injected.
  4. January 2021: Sir Simon said that ‘as even more vaccine becomes available’ at the start of 2021, the NHS would be able to start opening more vaccination centres outside of hospitals and also make them available in local pharmacies. This is expected to be the last phase of the programme and will coincide with jabs being offered to younger and healthier groups of people.

Fifty NHS hospitals in England are already equipped with super-cold freezers that can keep the vaccine at -70?C, meaning healthcare staff could be inoculated first.

However, the sticking point for care homes may be that BioNTech says that the vaccine can only be kept at between 2?C and 8?C for six hours in transit without going off. 

But once they are in transit the doses could perish after six hours. Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the logistical issues meant ‘in practical terms at this stage that we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes’. 

Matt Hancock hailed the jab’s approval, claiming an end to the pandemic was now ‘in sight’, while Boris Johnson declared it would ‘allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again’.

Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer’s vaccine – which requires people getting two doses 21 days apart – will be made available ‘from next week’. The UK has ordered 40million doses in total, with 10m due by the end of 2020 and the rest next year. 

Mr Hancock declared the vaccine drive ‘one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we’ve faced as a nation’. ‘It will be difficult,’ he said. ‘There will be challenges and complications, but I know that the NHS is equal to the task.’

He added: ‘We will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity because of the need to hold the vaccine at minus 70 – it makes this vaccine particularly challenging to deploy.’ 

Mr Hancock outlined how vaccines will be rolled out across the country, including using ‘conference centres and sports venues’.

He said: ‘While we begin vaccination next week the bulk of the vaccinations will be in the New Year, but I would urge anyone called forward for vaccination by the NHS to respond quickly to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.

‘Over the next few months, we will see vaccines delivered in three different ways. First, we will begin vaccinations in hospital hubs. Second, we’ll deploy through local community services including GPs and, in due course, pharmacies too.’ 

Public Health England (PHE) will process orders placed by the NHS for next day delivery to hospital hubs around the UK.

At this point, the first stage of the rollout process can begin.    

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

A lorry leaves Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, after the American firm’s Covid-19 vaccine was approved in the UK.

It’s not clear if the lorry pictured was transporting the jabs

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

 

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS' First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

It comes as England’s deputy medical officer warned that the vaccine will not bring an end to social distancing and that Britons may wear face masks for years to come and could become as commonplace as in the Far East, even after a successful vaccine becomes available. 

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said there would not be an opportunity to ‘have a massive party and throw out our masks and hand sanitiser’ in a similar way to celebrations marking the end of World War Two.

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.

He was then interrupted by Mr Johnson at a No10 press conference, who insisted that life would return to ‘pretty much as close to normal’ a day after he suffered the biggest Tory rebellion in this Parliament so far.

However, Mr Johnson warned the ‘worst thing now would be to think that this is the moment when we can relax our guard’, saying  it would be wrong to think it is ‘game over in the fight against Covid’ and ‘this is not the end’ as he urged people to stick to the new rules ahead of a potential return to normal life in spring next year.

Appearing alongside Mr Johnson at a No10 press conference, Prof Van-Tam conceded that mask mandates, social distancing and use of hand sanitiser are unlikely to remain guidelines after the pandemic ends – in a sign that support for restrictions is fading.  

Prof Van-Tam said everyone is ‘fed up’ with the measures, but low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine would mean restrictions lasting longer.

However, when he suggested it may be a good thing if some of the habits that have been picked up persist, Mr Johnson was quick to suggest otherwise.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say, ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’, like the end of the war? No, I don’t.

‘I think those kind of habits that we have learned from… will perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do.’

But Mr Johnson responded: ‘And maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.’

The comments came as the UK became the first country to grant regulatory approval to the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, with officials announcing rollout would begin next week.

But Prof Van-Tam cautioned that people need to be patient and continue to follow Government guidelines until told otherwise. He said: ‘We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take.

‘It is going to take months, not weeks.

And for now, the other measures, the tier measures, the social distancing have to stay in place. If we relax too soon, if we just kind of go, ‘Oh, the vaccine’s here, let’s abandon caution’, all you are going to do is create a tidal wave of infections.

‘And this vaccine has then got to work in a headwind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder.’

Prof Van-Tam added: ‘Everyone wants social distancing to come to an end – we are fed up with it.

Nobody wants lockdowns and to see the damage they do. But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it is offered to you.

‘Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.’

Prof Van-Tam also told the public not to rely on being protected by those who have been vaccinated, saying ‘the vaccine isn’t going to help you if you don’t take it’. He warned: ‘Watching others take it and hoping that this will then protect you isn’t going to work, necessarily.’

The medic was of the opinion coronavirus will never be eradicated, and thinks it may get to the point where the disease becomes a seasonal problem. ‘I think it’s going to be with humankind forever,’ Prof Van-Tam said.

He concluded by saying: ‘I do like to be challenged when I have, perhaps, not made myself clear, and the Prime Minister has picked me up on this occasion, and it’s quite alright because it gives me a chance to clarify what I mean here.

‘I do not think the Government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks, and hand sanitiser forever and a day.

I hope we will get back to a much more normal world.

‘But the point I was trying to make was – do I think, possibly, some of those personal habits for some people will persist longer and, perhaps, become enduring for some people, yes, I think that’s possible.’  

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

People walk through Oxford Circus in London as all ‘non-essential’ shops open after England’s four-week lockdown

First batch of Pfizer's Covid vaccine will arrive in UK within 'HOURS'

People carry out asymptomatic testing using lateral flow antigen at a test centre at Edinburgh University

HOW DO THE OXFORD, MODERNA AND PFIZER/BIONTECH VACCINES COMPARE? 

Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have both released interim results of the final stage clinical trials of their vaccines, with both suggesting they are extremely effective. 

Oxford University has published the findings from its second phase, which show the jab provokes an immune response and is safe to use – it is not yet clear how well it protects against coronavirus in the real world.

Here’s how they compare: 

MODERNA (US)

PFIZER (US) & BIONTECH (DE)

OXFORD UNIVERSITY (UK)

How it works: 

mRNA vaccine – Genetic material from coronavirus is injected to trick immune system into making ‘spike’ proteins and learning how to attack them.

mRNA vaccine – both Moderna’s and Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccines work in the same way.

Recombinant viral vector vaccine – a harmless cold virus taken from chimpanzees was edited to produce the ‘spike’ proteins and look like the coronavirus.

How well does it work?

94.5% effective (90 positive in placebo group, 5 positive in vaccine group) .

95% effective (160 positive in placebo group, 8 positive in vaccine group).

62% – 90% effective, depending on dosing.

How much does it cost?

Moderna confirmed it will charge countries placing smaller orders, such as the UK’s five million doses, between GBP24 and GBP28 per dose. US has secured 100million doses for £1.525billion (GBP1.16bn), suggesting it will cost £15.25 (GBP11.57) per dose.

The US will pay £1.95bn (GBP1.48bn) for the first 100m doses, a cost of £19.50 (GBP14.80) per dose.

Expected to cost GBP2.23 per dose.

The UK’s full 100m dose supply could amount to just GBP223million.

Can we get hold of it?

UK has ordered five million doses which will become available from March 2021. Moderna will produce 20m doses this year, expected to stay in the US. 

UK has already ordered 40million doses, of which 10million could be available in 2020. First vaccinations expected in December.

UK has already ordered 100million doses and is expected to be first in line to get it once approved.

What side effects does it cause? 

Moderna said the vaccine is ‘generally safe and well tolerated’.

Most side effects were mild or moderate but included pain, fatigue and headache, which were ‘generally’ short-lived. 

Pfizer and BioNTech did not produce a breakdown of side effects but said the Data Monitoring Committee ‘has not reported any serious safety concerns’.

Oxford said there have been no serious safety concerns.

Mild side effects have been relatively common in small trials, with many participants reporting that their arm hurt after the jab and they later suffered a headache, exhaustion or muscle pain.

More data is being collected.

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