Britain today approved Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine – but won’t be able to get any of the 17million doses it has bought until March at the earliest.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted that No10 won’t get any doses until the spring but said: ‘This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.’ And Business Secretary Alok Sharma described it as ‘another huge step towards ending lockdown’.
The EU – which approved the same vaccine two days ago – will get supplies of the jab from next week after health chiefs struck a deal with the US-firm to buy 180million doses last summer.
With Britain now scrambling to vaccinate 13million vulnerable Britons in the hope of ending the constant cycle of lockdowns by mid-February, an extra jab could have been a blessing.
Boris Johnson last night revealed he was bringing in the Army to help speed up the UK’s sluggish scheme, as the Prime Minister pledged to deliver 200,000 doses a day by next Friday. He also pledged to offer every care home resident a jab by the end of January and announced a new national online booking system that officials hope will drastically speed up the process.
So far the inoculation drive – the biggest in British history – has been plagued by supply and staffing shortages, logistical problems and bureaucratic barriers strangling its scale-up, meaning only 1.5million have received at least one dose.
It comes after Moderna’s chief executive last night say it was likely that the firm’s vaccine offers protection for a ‘couple of years’. But Stéphane Bancel said more research is needed to determine how long its shot wards off the coronavirus.
Pensioners pictured queuing outside a vaccination centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, today in a sign Boris Johnson may already be making good on his promise to ramp up the country’s roll out
Pictured: Scientists working on the Moderna vaccine in a laboratory
HOW DOES MODERNA’S VACCINE WORK?
Moderna’s vaccine works in the same way as Pfizer and BioNTech’s, and are types called mRNA vaccines.
They use genetic material called RNA from the coronavirus to trick the body into making the ‘spike’ proteins that the virus uses to latch onto cells inside the body.
These cells then look like the real virus to the immune system, so it attacks them as it would if someone was infected with Covid. It uses antibodies and T cells to attack these modified cells.
In the process it also creates its own memory of exactly how to destroy anything with the spikes on – i.e. the real coronavirus – in case it encounters them in the future.
Moderna found in trials that its vaccine, which is given in two doses, was ‘generally safe and well tolerated’.
It said the majority of side effects were mild or moderate. The most common ‘severe’ effects were pain at the site, muscles or joints; fatigue and headache. These, the company said, were ‘generally short-lived’.
Moderna said its vaccine can be stored in a normal fridge for up to a month before it is given out, meaning it will be cheaper to store and distribute.
Although it must be shipped at -20°C (-4°F), this is not too cold for normal freezers to handle.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, however, needed to be kept at -70°C (-94°F) at all times until it was about to be used, meaning expensive specialist equipment is needed to transport and store it.
As Britain prepared to ramp up vaccinations:
- As many as 100,000 Britons abroad have five days to get home or face being banned without a negative Covid test;
- Drivers are turned away from England’s beauty spots while police question parents with pushchairs amid questions as to whether they are taking enforcement of England’s third lockdown too far;
- Welsh lockdown is extended for three more weeks with schools and colleges shut until February;
- Horror as ‘NHS’ fraudster injects 92-year-old woman with fake coronavirus and charges her £160;
- Care home workers with Covid are told to stay in work due to mounting staff shortages;
- Pfizer’s vaccine does work against the South African and UK strains of coronavirus, study finds;
- National Express suspends all coach services due to new lockdown and plummeting passenger numbers;
- Stanley Johnson boasts he is due to he is about to receive his second dose of the Covid vaccine – when many are still waiting for their first
- And a poll reveals more people are planning to take the Covid vaccine, up to 85 per cent from 78 per cent last month.
Moderna’s vaccine was the second one to announce the results of its last-stage clinical trials when it did so in November, after Pfizer and BioNTech. They showed the vaccine appeared to prevent 94.5 per cent of Covid cases.
Mr Hancock at the time hailed the vaccine as a ‘candle of hope’ but the UK hadn’t pre-ordered it.
No10 had placed pre-orders for seven other candidates, including jabs made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Oxford University and AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Valneva, Imperial College London and Novavax.
Moderna’s and Pfizer’s use the same technology, which had never been tried before, so scientists said it would have been a big gamble for the UK to order both.
A scramble ensued on the day Moderna’s results were published, with British officials managing to hash out a deal for five million doses before Mr Hancock announced it on a TV press conference at 5pm that afternoon. This was later extended to 7million but the figure now stands at around 17million.
Pensioners pictured queuing to receive their Covid-19 vaccine outside a centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, today
Arthur Clark, 99, an RAF veteran, says he is yet to receive his Covid vaccination despite the programme starting a month ago
Speaking to MailOnline from his home in Beckenham, south east London, the great grandfather of four said he had been trying to get an appointment since Christmas. Pictured, left, is Arthur with his family and, right, as an RAF serviceman
Grants Shapps say Covid jabs may not beat South African strain, hours after study suggests it will
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned today the current wave of vaccines might not protect against the South African strain of coronavirus.
Mr Shapps said introducing a mandatory test and release system for travellers coming into the UK had become ‘much more urgent’ because of the threat the variant poses to Britain’s mass vaccination programme.
But there was confusion about the timing of his comments, which came just hours after a study by Pfizer/BioNTech suggested their vaccine could be just as effective against a mutation in the super-transmissible strain.
Amid international fears about the South African strain, thought to be at least 60 per cent more infectious than regular Covid, the UK has made it compulsory for travellers to test negative when they arrive in the country.
The Pfizer study – which hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet – tested how well the vaccine worked on the key N501Y mutation, an alteration on the virus’s spike protein which is thought to be responsible for making it far more infectious than regular Covid.
And because current vaccines work by training the immune system to recognise the virus’s spike protein and attack it, there were fears this change could render jabs useless, or less effective.
Results showed that neutralising antibodies were made against the mutation, which is also found in the highly-infectious Kent variant that is spreading rapidly across the UK. But both strains contain a catalogue of mutations, and the researchers have yet to prove that the vaccine works against them all.
The catch, however, was that the UK wouldn’t get any of the doses delivered until March 2021 because the US had an exclusive contract for the first 20million doses because the government had given so much funding to the company.
Hailing the approval today, Mr Hancock added: ‘We have already vaccinated nearly 1.5million people across the UK and Moderna’s vaccine will allow us to accelerate our vaccination programme even further once doses become available from the spring.
‘While we immunise those most at risk from Covid, I urge everyone to continue following the rules to keep cases low to protect our loved ones.’
MHRA guidance says the vaccine’s two doses should be dished out within 28 days of each other, unlike the controversial advice for the other two jabs, which says they can be taken up to 12 weeks apart.
MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said: ‘Today’s approval brings more encouraging news to the public and the healthcare sector.
‘Having a third Covid vaccine approved for supply following a robust and thorough assessment of all the available data is an important goal to have achieved and I am proud that the agency has helped to make this a reality.
‘The progress we are now making for vaccines on the regulatory front, whilst not cutting any corners, is helping in our global fight against this disease and ultimately helping to save lives. I want to echo that our goal is always to put the protection of the public first.
‘Once in use, all Covid vaccines are continually monitored by the MHRA. This ensures that the benefits in protecting people against Covid continue to far outweigh any potential side-effects.
‘Meantime, even if you have had a vaccine it is vital that everyone follows the national lockdown restrictions and remembers ‘stay alert, protect the NHS and save lives’ at all times.’
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Expert Working Group of the Independent Commission on Human Medicines said: ‘We are delighted to be able to give a positive recommendation for the Moderna vaccine which will help in the roll-out of the Covid vaccination programme.
‘As with all the Covid vaccine data we have seen to date, we have ensured a robust and thorough safety assessment has been carried out with the independent experts that sit on this group.’
It comes after it was claimed yesterday that a one-shot Covid jab that has the potential to significantly boost Britain’s sluggish vaccination scheme may be approved in the UK by next month.
Scientists and Government sources believe the vaccine, made by the Belgian arm of pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson, could be given emergency authorisation within weeks.
The jab uses similar technology to the Oxford University vaccine, making it just as easy to transport and store, but requires just a single injection to protect against Covid.
However, it won’t be clear how effective the vaccine is until its trial results are made public and submitted to the UK’s medical regulator, which is expected to happen by early February.
POLICE HUNT CONMAN WHO JABBED 92-YEAR-OLD WITH FAKE CORONAVIRUS VACCINE
The City of London Police asked for the public’s help in tracing the man (pictured)
Police are hunting a fraudster who injected a pensioner with a fake vaccine before demanding £160 for the useless jab.
A 92-year-old woman was jabbed in the arm with a ‘dart-like implement’ after a man claiming to be an NHS worker knocked on her door in South London, saying he was administering vaccines in the area.
The conman then asked for £160, which the victim paid as he said it would be reimbursed by the NHS, before leaving her home around 2pm on December 30.
Five days later he returned to the pensioner’s home in Surbiton, south London and demanded another £100.
It is not yet known what substance, if any, was injected, but the victim was later checked over at her local hospital and has suffered no ill effects following her ordeal, police said.
Yesterday the City of London Police’s asked for the public’s help in tracing the fraudster amid fears he may have duped other pensioners and vulnerable people.
Detective Inspector Kevin Ives from the City of London Police’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit said: ‘This is a disgusting and totally unacceptable assault on a member of the public which won’t be tolerated.
‘We are appealing to anyone who may have information that could assist us in identifying this man to get in touch.
‘It is crucial we catch him as soon as possible as not only is he defrauding individuals of money, he may endanger people’s lives.’
The man is described as white with a London accent, in his early thirties, 5ft 9in tall, medium-build, with light brown hair that is combed back.
On his second visit to the victim’s address on Kingsmead Avenue, he was wearing a navy blue tracksuit with white stripes down the side.
An NHS spokesman said: ‘The Covid-19 vaccine will always be available free of charge.
‘The NHS will never ask you to share bank details to confirm your identity or pay for a vaccine.’
MORE BRITONS ARE PLANNING TO TAKE THE COVID VACCINE, ONS POLL REVEALS
More Britons are planning to get the Covid-19 vaccine than ever before, a poll by the Office for National Statistics has revealed.
Almost eight in ten adults (85 per cent) said they would get the jab compared to 78 per cent last month.
‘There has been a gradual increase in the percentage of adults that reported they would be either very likely or fairly likely to have the Covid-19 vaccine if offered,’ the statisticians wrote.
They had surveyed 2,246 Britons for the survey after Christmas – between December 26 and January 3.
The Government is preparing to turbo charge the vaccines roll out to get the UK back to normal and end the cycle of lockdowns.
Boris Johnson has promised that 13million Britons – all over 70s, NHS workers, care home residents and the vulnerable – will get at least their first dose by mid-February.
It is hoped this will lead to restrictions first being lifted in March, as the vaccinations start to take effect.
STANLEY JOHNSON, 80, REVEALS HE IS DUE HIS SECOND COVID VACCINATION TODAY THREE WEEKS AFTER GETTING HIS FIRST… DESPITE SON BORIS JOHNSON TELLING THE REST OF THE UK TO WAIT 12 WEEKS FOR THEIR FOLLOW-UP JAB
Today he blamed his ‘prominent nose’ for a picture showing him without a mask covering his face while waiting for a train
Stanley Johnson has claimed he is having his second shot of the coronavirus vaccine today after receiving his first dose three weeks ago – despite his son Boris Johnson telling people to wait 12 weeks between jabs.
The 80-year-old father of the prime minister said he was ‘very much looking forward’ to getting his second and final jab today.
He said: ‘I had my first jab on December 18 and three weeks on is today and I’m very much looking forward to it. I don’t have to go far.’
To accelerate the rollout of the vaccine, the Government recently opted to extend the gap between the first and second jab to 12 weeks to allow it to be administered to a greater number of people.
Ministers have set a target of vaccinating the 14 million people in the top four priority groups – which includes the over-80s – by mid-February.
Care home residents, vulnerable people and frontline health workers are also first in line for jabs of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines.
Revealing his second jab today on Good Morning Britain, Stanley queried if the vaccine would give him a ‘get out of jail free card’ to resume normal life – but this was quickly kiboshed by presenter Kate Garraway who said it would not.
Stanley said: ‘I’m very reassured by the fact that we have got a grip of the vaccination programme… and as someone said – “give us the tools and we will finish the jab!” I’m confident we’ll get there by Easter.’
He also defended his lockdown-busting behaviour by insisting that ‘sometimes the mask slips’ as he prepared to receive his second vaccine shot today.
During the pandemic he has often undermined his son, the Prime Minister, by not wearing a mask, travelling to his Greek holiday home and going against initial advice by declaring he would still visit the pub.
Today he blamed his ‘prominent nose’ for a picture showing him without a mask covering his face while waiting for a train.
Grilled about his antics on Good Morning Britain, he said: ‘Sometimes the mask slips, by accident, I have a very prominent nose and sometimes it’s not very easy to keep it all covered.’
Garraway, whose husband Derek Draper remains struck down with coronavirus, branded him ‘naughty’ and put it to Stanley that his bullish tone has at times been at odds with the Boris Johnson’s more somber messaging.
Stanley insisted he will now behave ‘perfectly properly’ as the 80-year-old revealed he was due to have his second vaccine administered today.