The UK’s approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday is the best news we have received so far in the pandemic.
Rollout is set to begin next week, finally offering Britons hope of a return to normality over the next few months.
But England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam was on hand to deliver a dose of reality in his own inimitable style, pointing out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “isn’t a yoghurt” and warning it’s not time for a “massive party” yet.
Here are five reasons for caution about the vaccine issued by Van-Tam at Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference…
1. ‘We need more’
Prof Van-Tam said: “We have one authorised vaccine, but we need more. We are very hopeful we will get some more, but it is still possible some of the ones in development will fall by the wayside and you have to be prepared for that.”
The government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
It has also ordered millions of further doses from other producers, including 100m of the Oxford University vaccine, but none of these have been approved yet.
Watch: PM warns against ‘over-optimism’ following vaccine approval
2. ‘We need supply’
Developing his point about the number of approved vaccines, Prof Van-Tam went on: “We then need assured supply. That is a big and difficult ask for manufacturers and it won’t all come at once.
“It may stop and start a bit at times: we just have to manage that as best we can, as it happens.”
Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are set to arrive next week, with millions more in the following weeks.
3. ‘We need people to take it’
A YouGov survey released just before the press conference found 20% of Britons aren’t confident in the safety of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Prof Van-Tam urged: “We need people to take it. This vaccine isn’t going to help you if you don’t take it. And you will need two doses of this vaccine, and most of the others, to have full protection.
“Watching others take it and hoping this will then protect you isn’t going to work necessarily. We don’t know if this vaccine will prevent transmission, or any of them. We have to wait for the science to tell us if it will prevent transmissions – though we are very hopeful on that point.”
4. ‘This is going to take months not weeks’
“Rollout won’t be instant,” Prof Van-Tam warned, in an echo of Boris Johnson’s caution about the speed of the vaccine’s delivery at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier on Wednesday.
“Even if you gave me 60 million vaccines here in this corner now, no system in the world could deliver those really quickly in a matter of a few days. So we have to be realistic about how long this is going to take: months not weeks.”
5. ‘It’s not a yoghurt’
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is complex in that it requires temperatures of between -70C and -80C to be stored properly.
Prof Van-Tam said: “This is a complex product with a very fragile cold chain. It’s not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times, it’s really tricky to handle.”
Watch: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work