By Callum Keown
Care home residents, people over the age of 80, and health workers will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.19% and its German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +2.85% , when the U.K. rollout starts.
The U.K. became the first country in the world to give emergency approval to the vaccine on Dec. 2, and its Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization has since revealed which groups will be given priority. The mass immunization program is set to begin, after the vaccine candidate was authorized by the U.K. medicines regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
The U.K. has already secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, which was shown to have an efficacy rate of 95% in people over 65 years in a Phase 3 trial, with no major safety concerns. Around 10 million doses will be available soon, with the first 800,000 doses — enough to vaccinate 400,000 people arriving in the coming days.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, said the committee hoped phase one of the vaccine rollout would protect 90-99% of those at risk of dying from COVID-19.
The JCVI said the first-phase order was primarily based on age, but also focused on protecting health-and-social-care systems. After care home residents and their carers, all people over 80, and frontline health and social-care workers will be given the vaccine.
Those over 75 years of age will be next in line, followed by over 70s and “clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.” After the over-65s, all people aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions will then be vaccinated, followed by the over-60s, over-55s and over-50s.
Pregnant women won’t be vaccinated, due to a lack of data on safety, while most children under 16 will also not receive a jab.
“Women should be advised not to come forward for vaccination if they may be pregnant or are planning a pregnancy within three months of the first dose,” the JCVI said.
Large vaccination centers, in venues such as conference centers, are being set up, while around 50 hospitals are also ready to administer the jab, said U.K. health secretary Matt Hancock. The vaccine would also be available from some general practitioners and pharmacies if they have cold-storage facilities, he added.
Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said the emergency-use authorization in the U.K. marks a “historic moment” in the fight against COVID-19.
“This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the U.K.,” Bourla said.