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Vaccine against freedom – or some other fiasco in the making, asks DAVID ROSE


Just three days ago, Matt Hancock basked in the glory of Oxford University's astonishing achievement.

When his world's best vaccine was approved by regulators, the Health Secretary visited the television and radio studios and predicted that the UK's coronavirus crisis would finally be over by Easter.

After all, ministers had ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was much easier to use than the Pfizer version, which had already been given to a million Britons.

And Alok Sharma, the Secretary of Commerce, assured us back in May that there would be 30 million cans on the shelves by September, ready to be launched once this crucial clearance is received.

In addition, as we have been told, an army of volunteers has been recruited to take part in the largest mass vaccination in British history.

Just three days ago, Matt Hancock basked in the glory of Oxford University's astonishing achievement. When his world's best vaccine was approved by regulators, the Health Secretary visited the television and radio studios and predicted that the UK's coronavirus crisis would finally be over by Easter

They would complement the NHS and be able to quickly deliver two million vaccinations each week, starting with the most vulnerable.

As the death toll and hospital admissions skyrocketed across the country, it was, as the Prime Minister put it, our "beacon of hope," our off-step passport and lockdown and our beginning to live again.

After the government's fiasco over personal protective equipment and a failed testing and tracking system, this should be their shot at redemption. Finally, in the final days of the most terrifying year, there was real hope that 2021 would get so much better.

Except almost as soon as the initial euphoria subsided, nagging doubts surfaced. Far from having millions of doses of the vaccine ready for launch, it turns out that only 530,000 are ready for the program to begin on Monday.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, admitted in an amazing letter to the doctors that we are in fact already faced with vaccine shortages. In addition, they would likely take months.

And so the country's medical experts signaled a sudden change in approach. The focus – which was to vaccinate the most vulnerable people twice, with doses separated by three weeks – was now to give the starting dose to as many people as possible.

Ministers ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is much more user-friendly than the Pfizer version, which has already been given to a million Britons. However, it is far from having millions of doses of the vaccine ready for launch that there are only 530,000 for the program to begin on Monday

People would still get a second bump, but up to 12 weeks later. Elderly and vulnerable people who had been vaccinated once were told that appointments for their second dose would be canceled.

And instead of a vaccination army ready to support the largest vaccination campaign in British history, it turned out that volunteers were caught up in red tape. Even retired doctors and nurses eager to help face a mind-boggling list of 21 hurdles to overcome.

So are these just teething problems or something more basic? And where is the ambition of two million vaccines a week and freedom until Easter?

What happened to the deliveries?

For months, the government has boasted of its close relationship with Oxford and AstraZeneca and how this would ensure a smooth introduction of vaccines in due course.

When asked why our current inventory levels are so unexpectedly low, government sources advised journalists this week to ask AstraZeneca. There were rumors of problems with glass vials that were rejected. There have been some limited approvals from corporate sources for batch control.

Compare us to India, where the Oxford Jab is made under license. At least 50 million cans are already ready for use in a huge factory in Pune. Britain will have to import less than 1 percent of that on Monday.

Last night, a senior medical source, a viral vaccine expert who advised the government, suggested the cause was "messy data" from Oxford's clinical trials.

These indicated that an initial half dose followed by a full four weeks later was more effective than two full doses – a finding that emerged when study participants accidentally received the low dose.

When asked why our current inventory levels are so unexpectedly low, government sources advised journalists to ask AstraZeneca. Above, a volunteer is given the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University

When asked why our current inventory levels are so unexpectedly low, government sources advised journalists to ask AstraZeneca. Above, a volunteer is given the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University

"They didn't do everything they could to get replenishment earlier in the year because the approval took longer than Pfizer's," the source said.

Another reason for the delay is that the Oxford vaccine has to spend 20 days in sterilization before it can be used, while each new batch has to be reviewed by regulators.

However, Professor Adam Finn of the University of Bristol, a member of the Government's Official Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunization (JCVI), insisted the picture is less bleak than it may seem.

There is "an overwhelming argument" for widening the dosage gap to protect more people sooner, although this is due to shortages.

He added: “The UK is actually doing well compared to other places. There are difficulties getting the vaccines up and running – but something more complicated than ever.

"Personally, I am impressed that we have already vaccinated 900,000 people – and now the use of the Oxford vaccine will make it much easier to target the elderly."

Is the extension between doses bad?

Some experts believe that increasing the gap between the first and second dose from three to twelve weeks may actually improve protection, at least in the case of the Oxford vaccine.

However, Pfizer has signaled that it is unfortunate that its vaccine is being used in the UK in a way that was never intended at the time of its clinical trials.

Professor Whitty explained the controversial change in his letter to doctors: “For every 1,000 people boosted with a second dose of Covid-19 vaccine in January, 1,000 people may not have substantial initial protection, which in most cases is likely to affect them are 0 percent protected to at least 70 percent protected. & # 39;

He continued, "These unvaccinated people are far more likely to get seriously ill, be hospitalized and, in some cases, die without the vaccine." In other words, in a cost-benefit analysis, choosing the new approach means protecting more people.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, admitted in an amazing letter to the doctors that we are in fact already faced with vaccine shortages. In addition, they would likely take months

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, admitted in an amazing letter to the doctors that we are in fact already faced with vaccine shortages. In addition, they would likely take months

But could it be risky?

Professor Finn said with the Pfizer vaccine, people who got their first bump would soon have 91 percent protection. That number would rise only marginally to 95 percent after her second.

"Vaccines that go into more guns will save more lives," he said.

According to the official committee he sits on, data shows that the American Moderna vaccine – which is approved in the US but not yet approved in the UK – is very similar to the Pfizer shock. It appears to provide protection from a single dose for at least 15 weeks – and that's exactly what the JCVI used in deciding the Pfizer shock.

However, Deenan Pillay, a professor of virology at University College London and a senior member of the UK virologists network, said there was a "theoretical possibility" that delays in giving a second dose could encourage new mutations. He said, “Of course, I see the argument there that there is an advantage in maximizing the number of people who are given a starting dose. But there is a theoretical risk. & # 39;

Professor Finn refused. & # 39; That kind of speculation is not helpful. But we need to be smart about what mutations are occurring and whether they mean we need to change the vaccine. & # 39;

How did Israel reach 1 million in just 12 days?

Britain has already been put to shame by one country – by last night Israel had vaccinated a million people, or more than a tenth of its total population.

Furthermore, this was achieved with the cumbersome Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at -70 ° C, and the country started vaccinating 12 days ago – two weeks after the UK.

From the moment the vaccine was approved for use in Israel, sports stadiums and other large venues were put into operation after lengthy plans.

Britain has already been put to shame by one country - by last night Israel had vaccinated a million people, or more than a tenth of its total population. (Above, a medical worker in Tel Aviv)

Britain has already been put to shame by one country – by last night Israel had vaccinated a million people, or more than a tenth of its total population. (Above, a medical worker in Tel Aviv)

Not only those over 80, but all over 60-year-olds are already vaccinated together with health workers and teachers by organized, dedicated teams that were hired and trained weeks ago.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Health, 41 percent of people over 60 have received the sting.

In the meantime, a million vaccines from US company Moderna will arrive in the country next week, and they are much easier to store.

The UK didn't order the Moderna vaccine until after it received US approval last month, and supplies are not expected to arrive in the UK until April.

A medical worker gives the Pfizer vaccine to a Tel Aviv nursing home on New Year's Eve

A medical worker gives the Pfizer vaccine to a Tel Aviv nursing home on New Year's Eve

Israel is experiencing its third national lockdown. However, based on the vaccination rate, all vulnerable patients should have been vaccinated by the end of this month, followed by full herd immunity.

The UK government has claimed it wants normal life to resume by Easter in early April – a goal that currently seems unachievable.

In Israel, however, restrictions are likely to end long before the Jewish festival of Purim on February 25th.

Jews celebrate Purim, which commemorates their liberation from the Persian tyrant Ahasuerus by dancing and drinking. This year the celebrations can be especially joyful.

What about those who are waiting for the 2nd dose?

Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster, was overjoyed to receive her first push three weeks ago and was due to finish her treatment next week. She looked forward to having dinner with a friend later that month and going back to life. Now it is in the balance.

Ms. Bakewell, 87, wrote in the mail today: “I haven't heard from my GP or my clinic and have no idea whether my life will return to normal at the end of this month or at the end of March. Until I do, nothing is certain. & # 39;

The British Medical Association believes that "existing obligations" to give patients who already had their first prick a second prick "should be met and if GPs decide to keep those booked appointments in January, the BMA will support".

Richard Vautrey, director of the BMA's GP committee, said it was "grossly unfair to tens of thousands of our most vulnerable patients" not to do so.

Vinesh Patel of the Doctors' Association UK urged the government to reconsider: "A patient may not consent to treatment and then have it changed without their permission, especially if there is no evidence of a change."

Where is the army of vaccines?

Many GPs have been saying for weeks that they are already too busy to carry the burden of immunizing millions – and ministers apparently had a plan.

Recruiting an army of volunteers should go a long way towards delivering their two million doses a week – and much more so, now hospitals are overwhelmed again as the second wave of the virus approaches April levels.

There has been talk of this new force of ten thousand or more for months, but even retired health professionals face inexplicable bureaucratic hurdles to join them, such as demonstrating diversity and human rights education, as the Daily Mail revealed yesterday.

Nicola Thomas, professor of kidney care at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, said, "Asking for proof of address, two references and additional e-learning, including fire safety, is really too much."

Michael Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "Some of these bureaucratic demands are ridiculous, such as the requirement to be certified in fire safety, conflict resolution and radicalization prevention."

Yesterday there were signs that these restrictions were being relaxed – but how that can be explained.

And yesterday a new problem emerged: not just a shortage of civilian vaccines, but a shortage of people qualified to interview them for the job – a process that can cause another week of delay.

Are we going to escape all of this by Easter?

With so many aspects to the crisis, it is perhaps not surprising that high-ranking government sources responded with great hostility to questions about the goal of normal life through Easter.

A source close to the health minister even suggested that this newspaper's attempts to scrutinize it indicated that we were somehow against vaccinations – when exactly the opposite is the case. As our editorials have made clear, the mail is certain that vaccination is indeed the route to normal.

The suggestion is that there have been robust answers to all of these. The problem is, they can't deliver it convincingly.

Commenting on the one million vaccinations, Mr. Hancock said, "It is fantastic that we have reached this milestone and are continuing to accelerate the adoption of vaccines."

It is believed that four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are currently being manufactured, reviewed, and awaiting approval. So there is room for optimism. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says the army is ready to give 750,000 vaccines a week.

But the stakes couldn't be higher. While the public tolerated PSA scandals and testing and tracking errors, another vaccine fiasco could be a failure too far.

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