Vulnerable should all get COVID-19 shot before summer, says NHS chief

NHS England’s chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said that all vulnerable people over the age of 50 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine by “late spring” in a message to healthcare workers.

The prediction comes after the NHS announced on Christmas Eve that more than half a million people had received the Pfizer/BioNTech shot approved in early December, but will depend on additional vaccine supplies coming “on stream”, according to Stevens.

There are around 25 million people classed as vulnerable due to their age or health conditions, and hitting that target will likely rely on the much-anticipated approval of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, said to be coming this week.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the AZ vaccine, which unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech shot can be stored and transported at normal temperatures, making it easier to distribute. Around 40 million doses are due to be delivered before the end of March. A third shot from Moderna isn’t expected to be available in the UK until well into next year.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – which was approved by the EU last week – is being delivered via a network of more than 80 hospital hubs and over 500 GP-led vaccination centres, as well as in care homes in the UK.

That will likely have to be expanded even further if the AZ vaccine is approved and as the immunisation programme gathers pace.

Stevens’ forecast – delivered to staff at a vacciination centre – came alongside a warning that NHS workers are “back in the eye of the storm”, with the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals higher than at the peak of the first wave.

There were around 20,500 hospitalised cases as of this morning, above a peak of just under 19,000 as the first wave hit in April. The UK also recorded a record number of lab-confirmed new cases yesterday at more than 41,000, although that figures reflects a higher level of testing nationally.

At the same time, the new, more transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2 that was first identified in the UK has been detected in more than 20 other countries around the world, including several EU member states, India, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong.

The leading vaccine developers have said there is no reason their shots will not work against the new variant.

So far there is little evidence of “anti-vaxxer” resistance to the vaccine in the UK. However, in Spain – where more than a quarter of people said they would not take the vaccine in a recent survey – the health ministry has suggested it will set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated and share it with other EU members.

The European Commission has said it expects to deliver 200 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to EU countries by September 2021.

Novavax vaccine starts US phase 3

Meanwhile, another COVID-19 vaccine has entered the late-stage testing phase in North America. US biotech Novavax has started a phase 3 trial of its recombinant protein-based shot NVX-CoV2373 in the US and Mexico, adding to an ongoing phase 3 trial that started in the UK that is due to read out next year.

The UK government has already signed an agreement with the US biotech to buy 60 million doses of the vaccine in August if trials work out.

Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.