The British could get the Pfizer vaccine before the Americans as regulators prepare for a swift decision and the NHS prepares its staff for the December 1st launch.
The British watchdog will shortly open its formal assessment of the Covid-19 sting by US drug giant Pfizer Inc. and German biotech company BionNTech SE.
A government source told The Telegraph last night that, at best, the regulator would give the vaccine the green light in less than a week, and the NHS has already been instructed to prepare to administer the vaccine by early next month.
In the meantime, the U.S. regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), isn't due to meet until December 10, but it could make its decision in less than 24 hours.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed, said yesterday that the vaccinations would be "a day or two after approval on the 11th or 12th" could begin.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at 10 Downing Street in central London on October 20, 2020
The UK government stressed that the regulatory process carried out by the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) is independent and will take as long as necessary.
"There has been a tremendous amount of planning to make sure our healthcare system is ready to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine," a spokesman said last night.
MHRA, an executive agency of the Department of Health, was asked last week to assess the suitability of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
The UK has ordered 40 million cans and expects 10 million cans to be available by the end of the year to protect 5 million people if regulators approve.
Matt Hancock has said that he was "becoming more and more confident" that life will be closer to normal by spring.
The Minister of Health said last week, “If the regulator approves a vaccine, we will be ready to start vaccination next month with most of the introduction in the new year.
"We are going in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go."
Mr Hancock stressed the independence of the MHRA and said he did not want to "prejudice".
Donald Trump at the White House earlier this month
When asked what assurances he received from the drug agency about how long the process will take, he said, "It is absolutely a question for them, how long they will take, I'm not going to pre-judge that at all."
He added, "I don't even want to give the impression that they are trying to compromise their independence."
Mr. Hancock said the Pfizer / BioNTech filing with the US FDA "gave us the confidence to officially start the process here".
He said the law first requires the government to ask the MHRA to consider approving a vaccine.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's assistant chief physician, said the assessment will "come at the speed of science and we must leave it to them and trust them to move on".
If it were approved, the first to get the sting would be elderly people in nursing homes and nursing home workers, according to advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization.
This is followed by people aged 80 and over as well as health and social workers.
Leaked NHS documents, viewed by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), suggest that all adults in England – of all ages – could be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of January if care allows.
Under the plan, any adult who wants a sting could be vaccinated by early April, the HSJ said.
In addition to agreeing 40 million doses of Pfizer vaccine, the government has signed an initial agreement for 5 million doses of Moderna vaccine and another 100 million doses of Oxford vaccine.
Mr Hancock said the military and NHS staff are ready to roll out a vaccine across the UK by early December and are working on it "seven days a week".
Delivery takes place via nursing homes, general practitioners and pharmacists as well as vaccination centers set up in sports halls.
Mr Hancock said the UK will be among the first in the world to be able to do so.
All vaccines are rigorously tested and monitored by experienced regulators.
According to Moderna, the safety data available does not suggest any significant safety concerns.
Their studies found that the vaccine was generally safe and well tolerated, and the majority of adverse events were mild or moderate.
Vials of the coronavirus vaccine can be seen in a promotional photo for the Pfizer puff
The Pfizer sting is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.
Traditional vaccines are made using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs only use the virus' genetic code.
They instruct the cells in the body to make antigens that the immune system will recognize and prepare them to fight the coronavirus.
Some believe that mRNA vaccines are safer for the patient as they do not rely on any element of the virus to be injected into the body.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns were raised.
With the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine – known as ChAdOx1 nCov-2019 – no serious adverse health events related to the sting were observed in study participants.
More than 200 coronavirus vaccine candidates are being tested worldwide.
About 12 of them are in their final testing phase, but Pfizer is the first to report results.
Other potential vaccines in Phase 3 trials are vaccines from biotech company Novavax.
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