Elderly people in care homes and care home staff are top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.
However, because of the limited stocks and need to store at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospitals so care home residents may not be immunized until later.
The Pfizer/BioNTech product is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.
The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the free jab – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Matt Hancock said, with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.
UK’s PM Boris Johnson said: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be non-compulsory and there will be three ways of vaccinating people across the UK:
In the community, with GPs and pharmacists.
Around 50 hospitals are on stand-by and vaccination centers – in venues such as conference centers or sports stadiums – are being set up now.
Because the initial doses are being delivered to hospitals, which already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospital hubs – for care home staff, NHS staff and patients – so none of the vaccine is wasted.
It is thought the vaccination network could start delivering more than one million doses a week once enough doses are available.
Scientists said the data was further encouraging news.
Although the full trial data has yet to be published, the companies say there have been no serious safety concerns.
However, they did notice headaches and fatigue in about 2% of volunteers given the vaccine, although older people seemed to experience minimal side effects.
There is also evidence that the vaccine protects against severe Covid – but this is based on only 10 cases.
It’s still unclear how long protection from the vaccine lasts and if it stops people transmitting the virus.
In the trial, 42% of all participants are from diverse ethnic backgrounds and 41% are aged between 56 and 85 years old.
The trial, which is testing people at 150 sites in the US, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina, will collect data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for another two years.
Pfizer and BioNTech expect to produce up to 50 million doses of the vaccine this year and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
There are hundreds of vaccines in development around the world, and about a dozen in the final stages of testing, known as phase three.
The first two to show any results – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – both use an experimental approach, called mRNA, which involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code into the body to train the immune system.
Antibodies and T-cells are then made by the body to fight the coronavirus.
Russia’s Sputnik vaccine has also released early data from phase three based on a smaller number of volunteers and Covid cases.
There are some logistical challenges with mRNA vaccines, namely the need to store them at cold temperatures.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at around minus 80C, although it can be kept in a fridge for five days.
Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at minus 20C for up to six months and kept in a standard fridge for up to a month.
A vaccine – alongside better treatments – is seen as the best way of getting out of the restrictions that have been imposed on all our lives.
The data shows that two doses, three weeks apart, are needed. The trials – in US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey – show 90% protection is achieved seven days after the second dose.
However, the data presented is not the final analysis as it is based on only the first 94 volunteers to develop Covid-19 so the precise effectiveness of the vaccine may change when the full results are analyzed.
Pfizer chairman Dr. Albert Bourla said: “We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”
Prof. Ugur Sahin, one of the founders of BioNTech, described the results as a “milestone”.
A limited number of people may get the vaccine this year.
The two companies say they will have enough safety data by the third week of November to take their vaccine to regulators.
Until it has been approved it will not be possible for countries to begin their vaccination campaigns.
Pfizer and BioNTech say they will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. Each person needs two doses.
Not everyone will get the vaccine straight away and countries are each deciding who should be prioritized.
Hospital staff and care home workers will be near the top of every list because of the vulnerable people they work with, as will the elderly who are most at risk of severe disease.
People under 50 and with no medical problems are likely to be last in the queue.
There are still many unanswered questions as this is only interim data.
We do not know if the vaccine stops you spreading the virus or just from developing symptoms. Or if it works equally well in high-risk elderly people.
The biggest question – how long does immunity last – will take months or potentially years to answer.
There are also massive manufacturing and logistical challenges in immunizing huge numbers of people, as the vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80C.
The vaccine appears safe from the large trials so far but nothing, including paracetamol, is 100% safe.
There are around a dozen vaccines in the final stages of testing – known as a phase 3 trial – but this is the first to show any results.
It uses a completely experimental approach – that involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code – in order to train the immune system.
Previous trials have shown the vaccine trains the body to make both antibodies – and another part of the immune system called T-cells to fight the coronavirus.
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