Coronavirus vaccine hopes grow as 30,000 volunteers are recruited to administer jabs

Hopes are rising for the appearance of coronavirus vaccines in the UK by the end of this month, with up to 30,000 charity volunteers being recruited to administer the jabs.

New data showed Pfizer’s jab is safe and even more effective than previously thought, including for the elderly.

British medical regulators are due to receive full data within days, paving the way for the NHS to start administering jabs within weeks.

Updated data, released by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, found the jabs are 95 per cent effective.

The full dataset, detailing the vaccine’s safety profile, will be handed to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) within days, with hopes that in a “best case scenario” an assessment could take less than a week. 

The NHS has been told to prepare for the rollout from 1 December, with those living and working in care homes likely to receive the first batches.

And St John Ambulance is training up 30,000 volunteers to help the NHS to administer the jabs. 

Vaccines secured by the government and current state of development 

Richard Lee, chief operating officer at the charity, said more than 2,000 volunteers have already signed up, and would be ready to start administering jabs at the start of December. 

Pfizer has promised to deliver 10 million of the 40 million doses ordered by the UK by the end of this year, with hopes of results soon from trials of vaccines being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

The Pfizer vaccine has now been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised, although around two per cent of those given the jab suffered a headache and fatigue.

The new figures from 170 participants in their phase III clinical trial show the jab was 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19, with a 94 per cent effectiveness in those aged 65 and over.

A good immune response was "consistent across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics", Pfizer said.

Older age groups are most at risk of serious illness from Covid-19. Of those taking part in the trial, 41 per cent were aged between 56 and 85.

Scientists welcomed the results and said it was "particularly excellent news" that the vaccine works well in older patients.

Another jab, from US firm Moderna, was shown this week in early data to be almost 95 per cent effective. The UK has ordered five million doses, but it is not likely to be available until the Spring. 

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MHRA can authorise temporary supply of vaccines, without needing to wait for authorisation from European regulators. 

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the NHS will be ready by December 1 to roll out vaccines and that the MHRA could approve a jab "within days" of a licence application.

A Government spokeswoman said: "Pfizer’s latest announcement is encouraging news and we are working to understand what it means for the UK.

"Thanks to the work of our vaccine task force we have pre-ordered 40 million doses of this vaccine."

Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla (see below) said on Tuesday that the firm is preparing to file for emergency use authorization within days from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer, prepares to testify before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug prices in early November 2020

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

The data is expected to be handed to other regulators, including those in Britain, at the same point.

Mr Bourla said: "The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic.

"We continue to move at the speed of science to compile all the data collected thus far and share with regulators around the world.

"With hundreds of thousands of people around the globe infected every day, we urgently need to get a safe and effective vaccine to the world."

Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech (see video below, filmed last week), said the data shows a high rate of protection against Covid-19 can be achieved "very fast" after the first dose.

Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology (the study of the uses and effects of drugs in well-defined populations) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the announcement was “very good news indeed". 

He said the apparent efficacy of the vaccines in older people and minimal side effects were “very good news, not just for this vaccine, but as it also makes it more likely that other vaccines will also be reasonably effective in older adults.”

Prof Trudie Lang, from the University of Oxford, said: "The detail on achieving 94 per cent protection in the elderly participants in the trial is particularly excellent news.

"The company is reporting that it now has enough efficacy data to submit for approval from the regulatory authorities, who will undertake a detailed assessment of both the efficacy and safety data.

"We will need to wait and learn over time how long the protection lasts, and to see whether this vaccine can also prevent transmission.

"Meanwhile, this vaccine does look likely to have a strong role immediately once it is approved in protecting health workers and the vulnerable from disease."

The Pfizer vaccine has been shown to produce both an antibody and T-cell response in the body to fight coronavirus.

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