The UK government announced at 7am on 30 December that the long awaited Oxford vaccine has been approved for use.
The vaccine is thought to be more efficient for mass rollout, as it can be stored more easily than the Pfizer vaccine, which is currently being used.
So what is the Oxford vaccine and how will it be used? This is what we know so far.
How does the Oxford vaccine work?
The vaccine is an altered version of a common cold virus, known to infect chimpanzees.
It has been scientifically modified to remove the infection so it doesn’t make people ill, while carrying the blueprints - spike proteins - of coronavirus.
The spike proteins that form part of the vaccine are injected into the human body and our antibodies work to produce an immune response to defend against the ‘virus’ - though no actual infection occurs.
Therefore, when coronavirus enters the body in it’s true form, the body already has a defence response and so can kill the virus without the infection having any impact.
At the moment, the vaccine is thought to be 70-90 per cent effective.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved two full doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, per person.
Unpublished data suggests a longer period between the two doses provides greater effectiveness.
How does it compare to other vaccines?
The greatest benefit of the vaccine is that it can be stored at fridge temperature.
Although there has already been a roll out of the American-German Pfizer vaccine in the UK, this requires being stored and transported at 70C - which has proven difficult.
The Moderna vaccine - also created in the US - is slightly easier to deploy, with storage temperatures around 20C.
Russia has also produced the Gamaleya (Sputnik V) vaccine, which is thought to be stored at fridge temperature also. This vaccine is also derived from a virus which has been stripped of the infection that makes people ill.
Scientists have also considered trialling the Oxford and Gamaleya vaccine together, known as a heterologous prime-boost, in the UK in early 2021 - which could prove more effective than two doses of the same vaccine.
At present, all vaccines are administered via two doses, some weeks apart.
All of the vaccines are thought to work equally well against the original strain of covid and newer, mutated versions.
When will it be used?
The vaccine was first developed and administered in trials in April, and has been used in high numbers with varied effectiveness - from 62 to 90 per cent.
However, it was only approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on 30 December - meaning it has now officially passed safety and effectiveness tests.
Matt Hancock has described 30 December as a “great day for British science” with it being “great news, we can get going on Monday”, telling BBC Breakfast that there is already a plan to “accelerate the rollout”.
But the Health Secretary also noted that it is not clear how quickly it can be mass manufactured, despite claiming there could be “a way out” of lockdown by Spring 2021.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses from the manufacturer AstraZeneca - which should vaccinate 50 million people.
Who will receive the Oxford vaccine?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will provide advice for those in the highest priority groups in the coming days,
According to the UK Government website: “The JCVI has advised the priority should be to give as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible.”
The statement added: “Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first. The second dose completes the course and is important for longer term protection.”
Therefore, it is likely that the immunisation programme will follow a similar regime to the deployment of the Pfizer vaccine - which hundreds of thousands of people across the UK have already received.
In the highest priority groups are anyone:
- living or working in a care home for older adults
- frontline health and social care workers
Then the vaccine will also be offered in age order to:
- those aged over 80 years
- those aged over 75 years
- those aged over 70 years
- adults on the NHS shielded patient list
- those aged over 65 years
- adults under 65 years with long term conditions