Should we be sceptical of the Covid-19 vaccine being approved? Or is it time to start trusting good news again? This is how the country’s top health experts have reacted to the news.
This morning (2 December) we woke up to the news that the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency. The vaccine, which is 95% effective, will start to be rolled out around the nation next week. Speaking on BBC News, health secretary Matt Hancock said with “certainty” that “help is on the way” and we will be enjoying our summer holidays next year.
There are a lot of questions to be asked and it’s understandable why some people are sceptical. Also, after nine months of the government giving us mixed messages, it’s quite hard for some to fully trust this news. And with the UK coming out of lockdown in time for Christmas, is it all just too good to be true?
Has the Covid-19 vaccine been tested properly?
At a press conference following the announcement, Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA said the approval was made after “an extremely thorough and scientifically rigorous review of all the evidence of safety, of effectiveness and of quality of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine”.
England’s chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty, has tweeted today saying: “This is a very encouraging step forward. I would like to say a huge thank you to those who volunteered and the researchers around the country. The regulators will now do their independent analysis for safety and efficacy but this is another important advance.”
How did they find a Covid-19 vaccine so quickly?
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam recently said the normal timeframe for finding a vaccine is 5-10 years. Speaking in a Department of Health and Social Care video, he explained how a Covid-19 vaccine could be found so quickly, saying: “The shackles have come off in terms of investing. Governments […] have put hundreds of millions of pounds into this, deliberately, on purpose, to try to speed it up.
“But is true that the threshold for safety and or effectiveness are different for Covid-19 vaccines? Absolutely not.”
But what are other health and medicine experts saying about the vaccine?
Do health experts approve of the Covid-19 vaccine?
“It’s really good news,” epidemiologist professor Sian Griffins told Naga Munchetty on BBC Breakfast. “Any group that creates a vaccine has to produce a whole bunch of data for the regulator to feel satisfied that it’s safe and that includes the stage three clinical trials which have been ongoing during the last six weeks. So I think it’s really good news that the MHRA is happy with this vaccine and it is safe for rollout.”
She continued to say we are at the “beginning” but it’s a “very hopefully beginning”.
Asked if she had any concerns about the take-up of the vaccine, Griffins added: “I think we can be reassured because the work on the vaccine doesn’t stop here. As the vaccine is rolled out there will be a very careful monitoring of the effects of the vaccine. Any side effects will be recorded and there’s the Yellow Card system [the UK system for collecting and monitoring information on suspected safety concerns or incidents involving medicines and medical devices] as there is for all vaccines.”
How long will it take for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout to take effect?
Professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, Devi Sridhar, also spoke to Munchetty about the 21 days between taking the two vaccine doses that are needed for it to take effect: “We’re going to get through this in the next few months… but we need to buy time through distancing measures, being cautious and restrictions, to allow the vaccine to be delivered and enough doses for enough of the population. So this is going to take months. The gradual easing of restrictions is what we’re going to see.”
Muchetty also asked about the difference between the MHRA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), where the vaccine has also been put to for approval. Sridhar answered: “I think now because we’re in an emergency they’ve moved faster and the processes are slightly different. But I think we are likely to see in the next week or two more and more countries, and European agencies, approving these vaccines. It’s just the UK has moved first this morning”
Should we trust the government about the Covid-19 vaccine?
Over on Good Morning Britain, Dr Hilary Jones explained to Susannah Reid and Piers Morgan that the vaccine has been through rigorous safety procedures. Acknowledging the government’s muddled messages and baffling actions, Jones added: “When you think of the incompetence we’ve seen this year, it’s really good to see that some things can be done when you give it to to researchers and scientists who know what they’re doing and who I trust at least.”
He then explained a logistical problem with rolling out the vaccine: “This is the vaccine that needs to be stored at -17 to -18 degrees so, there are logistical problems, which is why you need a big site to get a lot of people to those sites all in one go, because you can’t waste any of this vaccine. Once you’ve opened the canister at that temperature, you have to use it. So there will be logistical problems but we can overcome those.”
Although there are still questions to ask, and the government absolutely has to give thorough answers to reassure us, the reactions from these health experts perhaps give us permission to feel a glimmer of optimism today.
The government has said further details will be released this week. You can keep up to date with its official vaccination news on GOV.UK.