New spike in UK cases as Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is approved
The Boris Johnson government was on Wednesday grappling with a new spike in Covid-19 cases – driven by relaxations over the Christmas period and the new variant – but its efforts received a fillip with the regulator approving the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
There were renewed calls for another lockdown and stopping schools from reopening after the holiday period ends in early January, as the number of new daily cases touched 53,135 on Tuesday evening – more than 10 times that of the April-May peak.
London, which is among areas in south-east England where the variant is most detected, registered 14,875 new cases. The UK’s state-funded hospital system has come close to being overwhelmed, with 21,286 Covid-19 patients, forcing some hospitals to cancel other procedures.
Johnson hailed the approval for the vaccine, which has an easier logistics delivery regime than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Calling its development in a short period “a triumph” for British science, he said: “We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with the first batches expected within 24 hours and mass vaccination beginning from Monday. The two-dose vaccine is to be delivered three months apart. As of Tuesday evening, 616,933 people had received the first dose of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine.
Officials said that the three-month period between the two doses would enable a large number of people in the groups at risk being vaccinated. Everyone will still receive the second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said.
Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca chief executive, said the company could provide the UK with up to 2 million doses a week, with the first doses arriving on Wednesday or Thursday: “Vaccination will start next week and we will get to 1 million a week and beyond that a week very rapidly.”
“The good news with this is, we are going to be able to inject a lot of people with one dose very quickly, provide them with a reasonably good dose of protection until they get their second dose two to three months later. That will enable us to protect many more people because we can wait two to three months for the second dose,” he added.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Because we’ve got enough of this vaccine on order to vaccinate the whole population – we’ve got 100 million doses on order – add that to the 30 million doses of Pfizer and that’s enough for two doses for the entire population”.
“So I can now say with confidence that we can vaccinate everyone, except of course for children because this vaccine has not been trialled on children, and anyway children are much, much less likely to have symptoms from the disease.”
Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Chief Investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial, said: “The regulator’s assessment that this is a safe and effective vaccine is a landmark moment, and an endorsement of the huge effort from a devoted international team of researchers and our dedicated trial participants.”
Sarah Gilbert, professor of Vaccinology at Oxford said this is a day for the team developing the vaccine to celebrate, after a year of extremely hard work under difficult circumstances. “Now that the first authorisation or use of the vaccine outside of clinical trials has been granted, we still have more to do and will continue to provide more data to multiple regulatory authorities, until we are able to see the vaccine being used to save lives around the world.”
Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, said: “‘For the past 25 years, staff at the Jenner Institute have worked to develop vaccines using novel technologies to protect people around the world from diseases that claim many lives each year. The work on ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 builds on many years of research by a dedicated team of vaccinologists, and we are delighted to see the first emergency use licensure.”