Frontline NHS workers have been told they will soon receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as regulators look set to approve the coronavirus treatment this week.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) could give the go-ahead for the British vaccine as early as Monday, a decision which would rapidly speed up the vaccination rollout across the UK.
The Oxford jab is around 10 times cheaper than the Pfizer vaccine and much easier to distribute because it only needs to be kept in normal freezer conditions.
The Government has struggled to get the Pfizer vaccine to care home residents and staff because of the need to store it in dry ice, but approval of the Oxford jab would allow for a mass roll out to care homes.
Britain has ordered 100 million doses and millions of vials are ready to be distributed immediately, with NHS workers told they will be among the first to get the jab, The Telegraph understands.
Ministers believe that the cycle of lockdowns can end once 15 million people are vaccinated, which should be achieved by February.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Mail on Sunday: “The early roll-out of vaccines, and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS, means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic.”
However, MPs and unions say that teachers should also be prioritised for immunisation, after new research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LHSM) showed that it may be impossible to keep the R value below 1 if schools remain open.
Teachers are not included in the current recommendations by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Robert Halfon, a Tory MP and chair of the education select committee, said: “The Government has got to do everything possible to keep our schools open, not just with the rapid testing regime, but ensuring that teachers and support staff are high priority for the vaccine.
"They should be the same level of priority as NHS front line workers.
"Do we believe that educating children is the most important thing we can do as a society? If we do, we need to make sure teachers are able to do that job without being affected by coronavirus.
“They are frontline workers and we need to do everything we can to keep schools open."
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, also called for teachers to be put in the highest priority group for vaccinations.
“The thing we think has to be considered is vaccinating staff alongside NHS and care home staff,” he added.
But scientists said there was little evidence to suggest that vaccinating teachers would stop spread in schools.
Prof Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “Most of the data on occupation risks comes from a time when many schools were closed, so difficult to be confident.
“Teachers are not that more at risk than other people of similar age groups.”
On Christmas Eve, the Department of Health and Social Care said more than 600,000 people had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but the rollout in care homes has been limited to seven areas even though they are top of the JCVI priority list.
Larger care homes with 50 to 70 beds are being prioritised first, with around 2,900 care homes of this size in England.
A further 231 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 48,542, NHS England said on Sunday.
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