Coronavirus: First doses of vaccine to arrive ‘in hours not days’, says top medic

Jonathan Van Tam ‘hopeful’ of further vaccines by Christmas

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 03 December 2020 12:38
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Related video:  Gavin Williamson says UK getting vaccine first as it is ‘a better country’

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against coronavirus will arrive in the UK “in hours not days”, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said.

And Professor Jonathan Van Tam said he was “hopeful” that a second vaccine being developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca will be approved for use by Christmas.

However, he suggested it could be a month or more after their first vaccination that individuals will become protected from Covid-19 and be able to relax social distancing measures. Initial jabs must be followed up by a booster three weeks later, and it is a further 7-10 days before the vaccine has its full effect, he said, adding that it is not yet know how long protection will last.

Prof Van Tam took to the airwaves to reassure Britons that it will be safe for them to receive the Pfizer jab, which was authorised for use in the UK ahead of the rest of the world on Wednesday, telling the BBC that he had advised his own 78-year-old mother to take it.

Some 800,000 doses of the vaccine are due to arrive from Belgium in the first wave, with millions more arriving after Christmas.

But supplies will not initially be sent to care homes, despite their residents being top of the priority list for the jab, because it is not currently possible to break up the 975-dose crates into smaller batches for distribution. First inoculations will be administered in 53 hospitals around England, before the establishment of 1,000 GP-operated local vaccination centres.

Speaking to the BBC, Prof Van Tam said he expected the first delivery to arrive “in hours not days”.

And he said he expected the jab to be authorised elsewhere in the world very soon, saying: “I don’t think the US or the European regulators will be very many days behind us.”


His comments came after diplomatic controversy over Matt Hancock’s claim - swiftly corrected by the MHRA regulator - that authorisation was accelerated by Brexit, which was further stoked today when education secretary Gavin Williamson said that the UK was getting the jab before France, Belgium and the US because “we’re a much better country”.

Prof Van Tam confirmed that the Pfizer vaccine will not be available in sufficient quantities to protect all the people on the official priority list, who make up 99 per cent of those thought to be most vulnerable to Covid-19.

But he added: “Hopefully we would get the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine quite soon.”

Asked whether the Oxford jab will be ready by Christmas, he said: “I’m hopeful that that would happen, but it’s entirely out of my hands. It’s in the hands of the regulator, the MHRA.

“They are independent and they must do what they do in their own time. And if that takes them a few weeks, that’s fine. If it has to take them a few months because they’ve got to ask further questions or they need a piece more data from the manufacturer, that’s also fine.

“We go by the speed of science. We do not rush them in any shape or form.”

Prof Van Tam, who said he got “a little tearful” when he heard news of the authorisation of the vaccine, used one of his famous football analogies to describe the current situation.

“I would say that it’s clear in the first half the away team gave us an absolute battering and they got a goal,” he said.

"In the 70th minute, we’ve not got an equaliser. We’ve got to hold our nerve now, see if we can get another goal and nick it.

“But the key thing is not to lose it, not to throw it away at this point, because we’ve got a point on the board and we’ve got a draw.”

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