THE first COVID-19 vaccine has been given the go-ahead and the roll-out across Wales will start within a matter of days, the Chief Medical Officer has announced.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now authorised the first vaccine as safe and effective on the basis of detailed independent expert review of evidence from large scale clinical trials.
The Pfizer Biontech vaccine has become the first to receive MHRA clearance in the UK and 40 million doses of the vaccine will shortly be available for delivery across the UK, with Wales getting its allocation based on population.
The effects of the vaccine may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.
Approval from the MHRA is the first step of Wales’ roll-out plan, which has seen preparations on-going since May. There are still a number of stages which need to happen before the vaccine reaches those in highest need and is ready for use, but this process is expected to happen over the next week.
These stages include;
- The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) finalising and publishing their guidance for the whole of the UK;
- Finalising training materials for staff and patient information leaflets;
- Training of experienced immunisers for this particular vaccine;
- Final legal frameworks to allow registered health professionals to administer the vaccine to patients need to be authorised by each Health Board in Wales.
The vaccine – which needs to be administered in two doses – will initially be prioritised and available for those aged 80 and over, care home staff and residents and those working within health and social care.
Pfizer Biontech vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures. These centres have already been decided by Health Boards and are in the process of being stood-up.
As further supplies become available and additional vaccines receive MHRA approval, a staged approach will see other groups be offered the vaccine, based on risk of serious complications and deaths.
Individuals in the priority groups for a COVID-19 vaccine will receive an invitation from their employer or Health Board providing information about the COVID-19 vaccines, telling them where to go and what to do on the day of their appointment.
People are urged to wait to be invited, which will happen through NHS systems. Please do not ask your pharmacist or GP.
There are plans in place for people who are housebound and for care homes to be vaccinated as soon as safely possible, with the approved vaccine being safely taken to them using a mobile service, once cleared for this purpose.
The development process for coronavirus vaccines has been as stringent as any other but the process in the face of the pandemic has been sped up by prompt, world-wide funding and a reduction in paperwork.
The length of the trials have not been shortened, and the usual safety measures remain in place.
The vaccine will not be mandatory and people will be able to choose whether they take up the vaccine or not. Information will be provided to people before vaccination to reassure them about patient safety and robust consent processes will be in place.
The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, said: “It is fantastic to finally say that the first COVID-19 vaccine has been given the green light. We know now that we have a safe and effective vaccine for use across the UK – this is the positive news I and so many across the country have been waiting for.
“All our NHS organisations across Wales have embraced the challenge presented to them and are at the advanced stages of planning for the arrival of a vaccine. We have tested distribution and storage arrangements to ensure we can get vaccine safely to every part of Wales.
“There’s still a few stages we need to work through but once all these safeguards are in place, vaccination can begin. There will only be relatively small amounts of the vaccine at first, those who have been advised as most needing the vaccine first, through approved delivery mechanisms. A full announcement around the timetable for roll-out in Wales will follow in the next few days.”
Vice-chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Board, Richard Roberts from Public Health Wales, added: “It is a significant achievement that only 9 months after WHO announced the global pandemic that we now have the first safe and effective vaccine available for use in Wales, and other vaccines to follow.
“Everyone has been preparing for months to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine programme, and it is very exciting that we will be able to begin, once the final steps have been put in place so that the programme can be delivered safely.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, commented: “Today’s news is a small glimmer of light at the end of what has been a long and dark tunnel.
“We know some people within our communities are much more at risk than others from the serious complications of COVID-19, which is why the new vaccine is being prioritised to protect them first.
“Whilst these first doses are given at fixed sites and occupational settings, and to protect our NHS and social care services, we must all continue to do our bit to prevent the spread of coronavirus: regular hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering where required to protect yourself and others.”