Covid-19 vaccine: Latest updates on Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer breakthroughs – and who will get it first?

The Moderna vaccine has been approved in the UK following a review by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on Jan 8.

This is the third vaccine to be approved in the UK, and the Government has already ordered 17 million doses of the vaccine. However, this will not be delivered to the country until the spring.

Trials have shown that it is 94 per cent effective in preventing disease, including for the elderly.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has stated “this is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.

“We have already vaccinated nearly 1.5 million people across the UK and Moderna’s vaccine will allow us to accelerate our vaccination programme even further.”

It comes as the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine roll out is being ramped up across the UK, after Boris Johnson promised the jabs would soon be available within 10 miles of peoples’ homes.

The Prime Minister confirmed that as of Jan 7, with the Pfizer and Oxford jabs combined, more than 1.5 million across the UK have been vaccinated.


Mr Johnson has pledged that the NHS is committed to offering a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups by Feb 15, which equates to a target of 15 million people.

Almost 200 vaccines have been put into development since Jan 2020, with at least 15 in human trials, and the UK has invested in three main jabs.

The UK has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Read More: What exactly is the Pfizer vaccine, who will get it, and is it safe?

Why is there a delay between the first and second Pfizer jabs?
The sudden decision to extend the gap between the two does of the Pfizer vaccine has faced criticism from GP’s and scientists, after some elderly and vulnerable people were told they would have to wait longer for their second jabs.

Regulators had previously said that two doses of the jab should be administered between four and 12 weeks apart, in order to allow as many people as possible to receive the first dose, which scientists have said offers some protection from the virus.

However, Professor Chris Whitty said that extending the gap between the first and second jabs would mean the number of people vaccinated can be doubled over three months, after being asked whether the longer gap could lead to an increased risk in an “escape mutant”.

It is a worry, but a “small real worry”, he said on Jan 5.

“If over that period there is more than 50 per cent protection then you have actually won. More people will have been protected than would have been otherwise,” he told a No 10 news conference.

“Our quite strong view is that protection is likely to be a lot more than 50 per cent.”

Should we be worried that the jab will not protect us from the new variant of coronavirus?
On Dec 14, the Health Secretary announced a new strain of coronavirus had been identified in England, but he said it is “highly unlikely” it will cause a more serious disease or compromise the vaccine.

In his address to the Commons, he said: “I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”

On the same evening that Mr Hancock had announced the new variant, the regional director of Public Health England, Professor Kevin Fenton also reinforced the power of the jab in the fight against the virus.

Speaking largely to Londoners after they were moved into a higher tier, he urged them to accept the vaccine as soon as they have the chance, suggesting it is one of the “keys to unlock the door to the end of this pandemic”.

The chief executive of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, said the German pharmaceutical company is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the UK variant, but further studies are need to be completely sure.

Mr Sahin said: “We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” but because the proteins on the variant are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.

Mr Sahin said BioNTech is currently conducting further studies and hopes to have certainty within the coming weeks.

Commenting on the possibility of the new strain rendering the vaccine ineffective, Mr Sahin said: “we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks.”

Moderna, which manufactures a different coronavirus vaccine, is also testing its jab against the faster-spreading version of the disease.

As of 9am on Jan 2, there had been a further 57,725 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK – the highest daily total so far – bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 2,599,789.

These record figures follow concerns from scientific advisors who have warned that one million Covid-19 vaccinations a week will not be enough to bring the pandemic under control.

The director of the Wellcome Trust, and Sage advisor, Sir Jeremy Farrar, announced:

“We’re not going to be free of this pandemic by February; this is now a human endemic infection.

If we do manage to hit the target of a million [vaccinated] a week, frankly I don’t think that’s enough to speed that up if we wanted to get the country covered.”

There have been growing concerns about the effectiveness of a vaccine after a new variant of coronavirus has been found in South Africa which has more mutations than the UK variant.

In a news conference on Jan 5, Sir Patrick Vallance said it is possible the South African coronavirus variant may have some effect on vaccine effectiveness but is unlikely to “abolish” their effect.

The chief scientific adviser said that a possible change in the virus shape in the variant “theoretically gives it a bit more risk of not being recognised” by the immune system.

“There is nothing yet to suggest that’s the case. This is being looked at very actively,” he said.

What we know about the Pfizer vaccine
The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out across the UK, with the most vulnerable and care workers being vaccinated first.

The first Pfizer vaccine was first administered to a 90-year-old grandmother from Coventry, Margaret Keenan, marking the start of an historic mass vaccination programme.

The rollout has been hindered by safety guidance, which says every patient receiving the Pfizer jab must be monitored for 15 minutes after receiving the jab.

Two NHS staff members who took the jab suffered an allergic reaction but both are reported to be recovering well.

This led UK regulators to announce that people with a history of “significant” allergic reactions to medicines, food or vaccines should not receive the Pfizer vaccine at this time.

Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech said their vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 after two doses and has passed its safety checks.

The jab only has 50 per cent efficacy after one dose, so scientists have warned elderly people to wait until they are fully protected with a second dose after Christmas before hugging relatives.

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said it takes three weeks to get the second jab and another week to develop immunity.

Read more: How the UK will get Pfizer’s Covid vaccine from factory to patient

Pfizer’s jab relies on a live piece of genetic code which must be kept at -70°C, making it less convenient and more expensive than Oxford’s traditional vaccine.

The vaccine was approved on Dec 2. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government has today 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.”

Government officials refused to be drawn on how many doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are due to arrive in the UK and on what schedule.

Overall, the UK has ordered 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate 20 million people – and military personnel have been ordered to transform about 10 sites into vaccine hubs.

On New Years Day, reports shared the German couple behind the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine criticised the EU for not ordering enough doses. At present, it is the only vaccine to have received approval in the EU; however, the bloc had only ordered 200m doses until last week, when it ordered a further 100m.

In a statement to Spiegel magazine, Prof Ugur Sahin shared: “The process in Europe was not as quick and straightforward as it was in other countries.”

READ MORE: The priority list for the vaccine – and how it will be rolled out

What’s the latest on Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine?
The Oxford vaccine was approved by the (MHRA) on Dec 30 and started to be rolled out from Jan 4.

Brian Pinker, 82, was the first person to be administered with the vaccine following approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Mr Pinker, from Oxford, received the jab at 7.30am on Jan 4 from nurse Sam Foster at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s Churchill Hospital.

He said that “I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said on Dec 30 that the vaccine “follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”

The Oxford vaccine, which is easier to store and handle than the Pfizer jab and costs less, is likely to make it easier to reach people living in the most secluded areas of England.

Results from phase three of the Oxford AstraZeneca trial, which had over 11,500 volunteers from the UK and Brazil, show the vaccine is 70.4 per cent effective on average. But when administered at a half dose and then a full dose the vaccine can be up to 90 per cent effective.

When delivered in two full doses it produced 62 per cent effectiveness.

Despite the good news, researchers have stated that more detail is needed about how effective the vaccine is in protecting older adults, who are more vulnerable to Covid-19. The research was mostly restricted to people aged 55 and under, with work in older age groups still ongoing.

Study author Dr Merryn Voysey, from the University of Oxford, has noted this in the Lancet and has stated that focus will be placed on these groups to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“In future analyses, with more data included as it becomes available, we will investigate differences in key subgroups such as older adults, various ethnicities, doses, timing of booster vaccines, and we will determine which immune responses equate to protection from infection or disease.”

On Dec 26, it emerged how a mix up with the Oxford vaccine occurred when a the scientists misread the strength of a dose received from the Italian manufacturers.

An army of more than 10,000 medics and volunteers has been recruited by the NHS to help deliver the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine beginning Jan 4.

Professor Calum Semple has described the Oxford vaccine as a “game changer”.

The respiratory disease expert and member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said: “It can be stored at a more convenient temperature and it can therefore be moved around the country a lot more easily.”

But he told BBC Breakfast: “To get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the population to be vaccinated, and that, I’m afraid, is going to take us right into the summer I expect.”

What is the latest on the Moderna vaccine?
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the MHRA for use in the UK.

It was confirmed on Jan 8 that the vaccine will be delivered to the country in the spring. The Government has ordered another 10 million doses of the vaccine, taking the number of doses due to arrive in the UK up to 17 million, which is enough to vaccinate 8.5 million people.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has described the announcement as “further great news” and says the Moderna vaccine is “another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.”

The deployment of the vaccine will be similar to the roll out of the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, which are currently being administered in NHS hospitals, local community services such as GP surgeries and mass vaccination centres.

The vaccine has also been authorised for use in the United States.

Moderna have reported that vaccine efficacy against the disease was 94.1pc, while efficacy against severe Covid-19 was 100pc. The jab is also well-tolerated according to the report and there have been no serious safety concerns identified to date.

The analysis of the phase three of the COVE study of the vaccine candidate, called mRNA-1273, involved 30,000 participants. Of this figure, 196 were Covid-19 patients, 30 of which were severe.

Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said the trial included many high-risk or elderly people, which gave him confidence the vaccine will help those most in need of it.

Unlike the Pfizer jab, the Moderna vaccine can be kept for six months at -20°C, the temperature of a conventional freezer, and can be stored for up to 30 days in a standard fridge – but a dose is three times larger than Pfizer’s.

Moderna is also testing its jab against the faster-spreading version of the disease.

What’s happening with the new Janssen vaccine?
On Jan 6, The Telegraph revealed a new single-shot vaccine, which is being developed by the US giant, Johnson & Johnson, will begin vaccinating millions of people in the UK after it receives approval.

The UK has pre-ordered 30 million doses of this vaccine but has the option to reserve a further 22 million- which will assist the Government in its aim to vaccinate the four most vulnerable groups of citizens by mid- February.

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