Pfizer/BioNTech COVID jab to be sold privately in UK

COVID-19 vaccine

People in Great Britain will be able to buy the latest Omicron-directed version of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine from retail pharmacies, starting in March.

The move follows the approval of the Comirnaty vaccine by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for thawing and re-labelling of the vaccine outside of the NHS. Previously, thawing of the single-use vaccine vials – which have to be stored at a temperature of -80 Centigrade – had to be carried out at an NHS facility.

Pfizer has said it is now in talks with major pharmacy chains to make its Comirnaty Omicron XBB.1.5 vaccine an option for people aged 12 and over in England, Scotland, and Wales who are not eligible for a free shot via the NHS.

The new vaccine, which was approved by the MHRA last September, is expected to cost less, at around £45 (about $57), although official news on the price has not yet been released. High street pharmacies will be able to set their own price for sale to the public, as they can do with private sale of other vaccines like influenza shots.

The move comes as uptake of Comirnaty as well as other COVID-19 vaccines has plummeted following the end of the pandemic, and as the sale of the vaccines has transferred from one driven by government contracts to a conventional commercial model.

The NHS is still providing the vaccines free to people aged over 65, as well as care home residents, individuals deemed vulnerable to severe infections due to compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and frontline health and social care workers, but the scope is expected to be reduced in the spring to exclude the over-65s as well.

The scale-back of the free access programme means most people in the UK have not been vaccinated since autumn 2021, and protection is known to wane over time. Just under 70% of eligible people in England received a vaccine in the autumn 2023 season, equivalent to 7.8 million people.

There were approximately 6,000 cases in England during the week ending 9th December, the most recent data available, and 159 deaths.

"COVID-19 has not gone away and continues to be a threat," said Dr Gillian Ellsbury, primary care medical director at Pfizer UK. "As we move from a pandemic to an endemic state, we need to ensure we remain ready to respond to this constantly evolving and unpredictable virus. Vaccines remain an important pillar in helping to prevent serious illness or hospitalisation as a result of COVID-19." 

Novavax’ Nuvaxovid approved

Meanwhile, the MHRA has approved Novavax’s XBB.1.5-targeted version of its protein-based Nuvaxovid vaccine for use in people aged 12 and over. Under an agreement with private clinic chain Pharmadoctor, the vaccine will also be available for public sale at a per-dose cost of £45 from 1st April.

“Our new private COVID vaccination pharmacy service follows other private respiratory vaccination services that we’ve pioneered in pharmacy over the last 20 years, including the UK’s first pharmacy flu, pneumonia, and RSV vaccination services,” said Pharmadoctor's chief executive, Graham Thoms.

12 February, 2024