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The UK has formall started the final approval process to use first coronavirus vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said that the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine would now be considered by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
Mr Hancock told a No 10 press conference the company had already begun submitting data to the regulator and would submit its full data in the coming days.
“This is another important step forward in tackling this pandemic,” he said.
He said the speed of the roll-out of a vaccine would depend on the speed it could be manufactured.
“If the regulator approves a vaccine we will be ready to start the vaccination next month with the bulk of roll-out in the new year.
“We are heading in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.”
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Approval of the vaccine by the regulator is one of the final hoops it must jump through before being approved.
It came as the company confirmed they had submitted for emergency use authorisation from the FDA, based on Phase 3 trial data, which shows the vaccine is 95% effective with no serious safety concerns.
Mr Hancock said: “If the regulator approves a vaccine we will be ready to start the vaccination next month with the bulk of the rollout in the new year.
“Were heading in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.”
The Pfizer/BionTech vaccine is expected to receive US approval within days.
The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer jab and expects 10 million doses by the end of the year.
But Jonathan Van Tam warned there were no guarantees about when a vaccine will start being rolled out.
He also warned it was “pointless” to speculate about how many doses will be available and when.
He said the matter is now in the MHRA’s hands, saying: “It will happen at the speed of science.
“It has to happen in their own time when they are ready and we have to leave them and trust them to get on with that.”
Prof Van Tam added: “Do I believe we’re now on the glide path to landing this plane? Yes, I think I do.
“Do I accept that sometimes when you’re on the glide path you can have a side wind and the landing is not totally straightforward – of course.
“And this is the real science world we live in. But yes, I think we’re on the glide path.”
Prof Van Tam added the the difference between being higher or lower on the vaccine priority list – which will prioritise healthcare workers and the elderly in its current draft – "will be one or two or three weeks. It won’t be very long at all.”
It came after leaked NHS documents suggested all adults in England could start to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of January if supplies allow.
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Under the plan, every adult who wants a jab could be vaccinated by early April.
NHS England’s draft Covid-19 vaccine deployment programme, seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) and dated November 13, comes as regional leaders have been told to prepare large vaccination centres to roll out a coronavirus vaccine.
Ministers have also ordered 100 million doses of a vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which has shown promising results in clinical trials and is due to report before Christmas, and five million doses of a jab from US firm Moderna, which is not expected to arrive until the spring.
The planning document from NHS England, according to the HSJ, relies on a range of assumptions including that there will be 75% take-up of the jab outside residential settings such as care homes and prisons, where 100% is expected.
The model also relies on more than seven million doses of a vaccine being available in December, with four to five million doses per week given to people, the HSJ reported.
The document, which was shared among senior NHS regional leaders on Thursday, comes as the head of England’s biggest NHS hospital trust said in a “best-case scenario” it could take until April to vaccinate enough people to make a difference to the pandemic.
Dr David Rosser, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust chief executive, said: “It’s pretty clear vaccination is not going to appear en masse until probably the beginning of February at the earliest.
“It is encouraging, (that) there are signs we might have some vaccine to vaccinate care home residents and the most vulnerable before then.
“But the big truckloads of stuff is not going to come in before February – that seems pretty clear.”