The ongoing immunisation programme in the United Kingdom has been quite noteworthy, with the government having managed to achieve most of its targets of inoculating according to different priority groups, as prescribed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
After vaccinating the majority of people in the first few targeted priority groups, the government is progressing ahead with the target of offering the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine to every individual over the age of 50 years by the middle of April 2021. This phase will also include select people under the age group of 50 years who have been declared as clinically vulnerable.
On March 23, 2021, the first anniversary of the covid-induced national lockdown in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked all the heroes, frontlines workers, the health and care staff deployed by the National Health Service, the significant support received from the Public Health England (PHE) and the perpetual assistance from the healthcare administration, as well as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
According to PM Johnson, the government is moving ahead with a target to offer the first dose of vaccine to all the adults by the end of July as the UK prepares to reopen, at full scale, from the third week of June.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care has extended monetary support to the tune of £47.6 million for the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) to buttress the acceleration and expansion of the ongoing inoculation drive in the country.
The VMIC has been instituted with the purpose of producing millions of vaccine doses quickly, during a pandemic. This is the first national vaccines manufacturing and innovation facility to be inaugurated in the UK. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has granted around £215 million.
There is a fresh monetary injection in VMIC that is expected to aid the expansion of capacity by 20-fold. The new funding of £47.6 million is in addition to the monetary support of £93 million, provided in May 2020. This new funding will effectively enable the entity to produce up to 70 million doses of the vaccine within six months. Furthermore, the innovation facility will serve as a highly specialist manufacturing centre during future pandemics.
More importantly, the multi-million funding support is likely to catalyse the timeline for VMIC so that it can be operationally ready to support the country in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the help of VMIC, the government was earlier able to set up a rapid deployment facility at Oxford Biomedica in Oxfordshire. Notably, the additional manufacturing sites are responsible for producing the vaccine jab co-developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford after receiving clinical approval from MHRA.
According to the data disclosed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the UK health services managed to immunise a total of 26.8 million people with the first doses in a little more than three months, from December 8 to March 19. As many as 2.1 million people have received the second dose of the vaccine, as on March 20.
The vaccination drive is likely to remain strong over the coming weeks as most of the people who have received their first dose will be called to finish the two-jab process of the Covid-19 vaccine. The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine received a clinical go-ahead from MHRA on January 8, 2021 and is likely to be ready for deployment from spring. In the meantime, MHRA is conducting rolling reviews to assess the potential benefits and the extent of adverse effects of the Hanssen and Novavax Covid-19 vaccines.
The recent hurdle in the vaccination programme due to the apparent doubt with regards to the higher-than-expected adverse effects of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine has also been overcome by MHRA.
The data from the real-world study conducted by the Public Health England (PHE) has also indicated that both AstraZeneca-Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective in reducing the occurrence of Covid-19 (CoV-2 SARS) virus among senior citizens over the age of 70 years and more.
Written by Kunal Sawhney