Watch: Pfizer COVID vaccinations in UK to start next week
Health secretary Matt Hancock has welcomed the news that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and will begin rolling out from next week.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have approved the jab – which the government has secured 40 million doses of – as clinically safe, paving the way for mass vaccinations across the country.
Hancock tweeted on Wednesday morning that “help is on its way” as he confirmed the NHS will start vaccinating from “early next week”.
He added: “The UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply.”
Boris Johnson welcomed the news, writing on Twitter: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”
Hancock said vaccinations will start with the most elderly, people in care homes and their carers, before coming down the age range, with NHS staff and the clinically extremely vulnerable also high on the priority list.
He told BBC Breakfast: “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better, and help is on its way with this vaccine. We can now say that with certainty rather than with all the caveats that I normally have to put around that.
“This will take time to roll out. You’ve got to have that 21 days between the jabs anyway and we’ve got to get this rolled out at the speed at which it can be manufactured.
“I’m confident now with the news today that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better and we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy.”
Speaking to Sky News, Hancock said there would be “three modes of delivery” of the vaccine.
He said: “The first is hospitals themselves, which of course we’ve got facilities like this.
“Fifty hospitals across the country are already set up and waiting to receive the vaccine as soon as it’s approved, so that can now happen.
“Also vaccination centres, which will be big centres where people can go to get vaccinated. They are being set up now.
On the challenge posed by the need for the vaccine to be stored at the -70C storage conditions, he added: “This is a challenging rollout and the NHS in all parts of the UK stands ready to make that happen.
“They are used to handling vaccines and medicines like this, with these sorts of conditions.
“It’s not easy but we’ve got those plans in place, so this morning I spoke to my counterparts in the devolved nations to make sure that we are all ready to roll out this vaccine… from early next week.”
The news of the vaccine approval was welcomed on Twitter, with Nadim Zahawi, the newly-appointed minister responsible for overseeing the vaccination roll-out, tweeting: “Major step forward in the fight against COVID-19 today.”
Business secretary Alok Sharma tweeted: “The UK was the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech – now we will be the first to deploy their vaccine
“To everyone involved in this breakthrough: thank you. In years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the UK led humanity’s charge against this disease.”
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the news a vaccine has been approved for use in the UK was the “best news in a long time”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Thank you to all those involved in this wonderful news – from the brilliant scientists to the trial volunteers. We must now ensure vaccines are rolled out safely but swiftly across the country.”
Watch: Who will get the Pfizer vaccine first?
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “This is fantastic news and will give us all hope as we head towards Christmas and the New Year.
“The government needs to put in place a plan to roll out the vaccine rapidly. They failed on PPE, failed on testing and failed on track and trace. We cannot afford another failure.”
However, England’s chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty, urged caution over the news, warning that “we can’t lower our guard yet”.
He tweeted: “The independent regulator authorised the first vaccine for use against COVID-19.
“This is excellent news and a step towards normality. It will take until spring until the vulnerable population who wish to are fully vaccinated. We can’t lower our guard yet.”
The vaccine news comes on the day that England’s second lockdown comes to an end, with the regional tiered approach coming back into force.
MPs backed the measures, despite Johnson suffering the largest Tory rebellion of this parliament.
It means 99% of England will enter the toughest Tier 2 and 3 restrictions, preventing them from mixing indoors with other households when the second national lockdown ends on Wednesday.
The House of Commons voted by 291 votes to 78 – a government majority of 213 – for the new restrictions on Tuesday evening.
Fifty-five Conservatives rebelled over the measures, with 52 voting against the government, a further two acting as tellers for the noes and one formally abstaining.
But the measures passed with Labour ordering its MPs to abstain after party leader Sir Keir Starmer warned the plans pose a “significant” health risk.
The UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with a rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the MHRA.
Watch: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work