A second COVID-19 vaccine has been given the go-ahead and its roll-out across Wales will start next week, the Health Minister has announced.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now authorised the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as safe and effective on the basis of detailed independent expert review of evidence from large scale clinical trials.
The UK Government has procured vaccines on behalf of the four nations and around 100m of these are of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, with Wales receiving its allocation based on population over the next weeks and months. Two doses will be needed, with an interval of between four and 12 weeks between doses.
At the beginning of December, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was the first to receive MHRA approval in the UK. 40 million doses of the vaccine have been made available for delivery across the UK.
Based on a UK-wide priority system, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has already begun to be administered to frontline health and social care staff, as well as care home residents and staff and people aged over 80. Latest figures show that in the first 2 weeks 22,000 people were vaccinated – expected to be over 30,000 now. Further statistics will be released on Thursday.
Unlike the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is stored at normal vaccine fridge temperatures. This means it will have few storage and transportation issues, making it much easier to use in community settings such as care homes and primary care settings like GP surgeries.
People are asked not to phone their GP, pharmacy or hospital asking when they will get a vaccine. When someone is in one of the groups eligible for the vaccine, they will be invited to attend a dedicated clinic which will have been set up to ensure patient safety and that of the healthcare professionals.
The effects of the vaccines may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We understand there are high expectations and excitement at the arrival of a second vaccine. However it will take time to reach everyone as this is not an instant fix. We won’t receive all the doses at once and we have to be realistic about the scale and pace of delivery when we are vaccinating the entire adult population.
“We will not see the impact of the vaccine for some months and the pressure on the NHS will continue during this winter. It is essential that we all continue to play our part and do the right thing to protect each other.
“Nobody will be left behind by our NHS. To help the NHS to help you please wait to be invited for your vaccination.”
Senior Responsible Officer for Wales’ COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Dr Gillian Richardson said: “The vaccine has been approved as safe and effective by the MHRA, based on the same high standards as applied to all medicines and vaccines.
“It is great news that a second vaccine has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the MHRA.”
Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, which is nationally co-ordinating research and study-set up in Wales, said: “Our research community is working hard to provide the evidence we need to fight this pandemic and the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is an important step forward. We have two further vaccines being tested in Wales right now, with more trials due to be set up in the coming weeks and months.
“This research, alongside the other COVID-19 studies taking place will help us to not only protect the most vulnerable but also to provide the best care possible for those who become ill.
“I’m proud of the role our researchers in Wales have played in this UK-wide effort and I would like to thank the participants too who have volunteered. Together we can make a real difference.”
Vaccine specific training materials will be made available to vaccinators, in accordance with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine characteristics.
Commenting on the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Andrew RT Davies said: “This is incredible news during an extremely bleak time, especially as we should be enjoying the festive season. It will hopefully be a very happy new year though with this vaccine being a turning point in our fight against Covid-19, with it being able to be transported at fridge temperatures. The Welsh Government will now have no excuse not to roll out vaccinations to the most vulnerable in Wales and can now start catching-up with other parts of the UK in delivering the vaccine.
“The vaccine is one truly made by the UK, with research funded by the UK Government, developed in England and the different aspects of the vaccine being made in North Wales and Scotland.
“With the UK Government investing over £88 million into the development of the vaccine, the UK Government is making sure the vaccine is made available for free across the UK, buying the vaccines for each nation and ensuring every country gets their fair share.
“The vaccine also shows Britain at its best. Not only did people in South Wales come forward to take part in the clinical trial to get this vaccine approved, but AstraZeneca have made it clear they will not seek to make a profit whilst selling the vaccine to developing countries.
“I know many people will want to thank the scientists and everyone involved in making this vaccine and a brighter future possible.”