BRITAIN has enough Covid vaccine doses to immunise the entire population – with 24 million to get the jab before Easter.
Regulators approved the "game-changing" Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine today with the roll out set to begin on Monday and the makers promising to deliver two million doses a week.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the vaccine as a "great British success story" which will help the country out of the pandemic "by spring".
The jab, from Oxford and AstraZeneca, could give up to 70 per cent protection 22 days after the first dose, experts today revealed.
People won't need their second dose for another three months – allowing medics to roll the first jabs out to as many people as possible.
Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 50 million people.
Along with the 30 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine, the UK now has enough doses ordered to vaccinate the entire population, Mr Hancock said.
Hailing the approval as "fantastic news, the Health Secretary today confirmed its roll-out would begin on January 4.
Mr Hancock said the plan is to vaccinate all vulnerable groups first but that eventually all adults, including the under-50s, will be offered a jab.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: "The under-50s… firstly they'll get the vaccine if they are clinically vulnerable to coronavirus and if they've been receiving letters during the whole pandemic about shielding and the specific arrangements that are necessary for those who are clinically vulnerable."
"If you get those letters, then you're on the clinically vulnerable list and you'll be pulled forward, including if you're under the age of 50.
"And then once we've vaccinated all of them, and the over-50s, which is a significant chunk of the population, then we will continue to vaccinate the under-50s, even though the likelihood of dying from the disease is much lower if you're under the age of 50.
"Because we've got enough of this vaccine on order to vaccinate the whole population – we've got 100 million doses on order – add that to the 30 million doses of Pfizer and that's enough for two doses for the entire population.
"So I can now say with confidence that we can vaccinate everyone, except of course for children because this vaccine has not been trialled on children, and anyway children are much, much less likely to have symptoms from the disease."
He told Sky News: "We are confident we can get out of the pandemic by the spring."
And later added: "It's very good news for accelerating the vaccine roll-out. It brings forward the day we can get our lives back to normal.
"The vaccine is our way out of the pandemic."
It is truly fantastic news – and a triumph for British science – that the @UniofOxford /@AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use. We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
Mr Hancock refused to say how many people could be inoculated in the new year, but confirmed two dosed of the jab would be given 12 weeks apart.
"This is important because it means that we can get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection the first dose gives you," he said.
"The scientists and the regulators have looked at the data and found that you get what they call 'very effective protection' from the first dose.
"The second dose is still important – especially for the long-term protection – but it does mean that we will be able to vaccinate more people more quickly than we previously could."
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told BBC Radio 4's Today programme deliveries will be ramped up "very rapidly" in the first and second week of January.
He added: "The vaccination will start next week and we will get to one million a week and beyond that very rapidly.
"We can go to two million. In January we will already possibly be vaccinating several million people and by the end of the first quarter we are going to be in the tens of millions already."
Asked whether two million vaccinations per week was possible, Mr Hancock told Times Radio: "That's absolutely deliverable by the NHS."
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson hailed the news on Twitter, writing: "It is truly fantastic news – and a triumph for British science – that the @UniofOxford /@AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use.
"We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible."
England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the jab is "safe and effective", adding: "It is very good news that the independent regulator has now authorised for use the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine."
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said the regulator has been conducting a "rolling review" of the vaccine.
She also told a press briefing today that the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca was released last night in preparation of a mass roll out.
"No stone is left unturned when it comes to our assessments," she said.
"This approval means more people can be protected against this virus and will help save lives.
"This is another significant milestone in the fight against this virus.
"We will continue to support and work across the healthcare system to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out safely across the UK.
"Protecting health and improving lives is our mission and what we strive for."
When questioned about the efficacy of the vaccines, Professor Wei Shen Lim, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: "The data shared with us – and I'm not sure it is entirely in the public domain – calculated the vaccine efficacy between day 22 of dose one to the time of dose two being given, and the figure is around 70 per cent, but I don't think I should be revealing any more than that."
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines expert working group on Covid-19 vaccines, said: "With regard to protection after the first dose, from the data that was given to us, protection starts after day 22 after the first dose.
"We were able to identify data which suggested that the protection is afforded till at least three months, and hence the reason for the interval dosing of between four to 12 weeks for the second dose."
'GUIDED BY THE SCIENCE'
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, will publish its latest guidance on who should receive the vaccine and in which order later.
Data published in The Lancet medical journal in early December showed the vaccine was 62 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 among a group of 4,440 people given two standard doses of the vaccine when compared with 4,455 people given a placebo drug.
Of 1,367 people given a half first dose of the vaccine followed by a full second dose, there was 90 per cent protection against Covid-19 when compared with a control group of 1,374 people.
The MHRA has authorised two full doses of the vaccine to be given to people.
In the vaccine trial, 10 people given the placebo dummy drug were admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including two with severe Covid which resulted in one death.
But among those receiving the vaccine, there were no hospital admissions or severe cases.
People receiving the Oxford vaccine or the one from Pfizer/BioNTech, which is also being rolled out, will now receive their first dose of the vaccine followed by a second dose up to 12 weeks later.
The aim is to give as many people as possible a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford trial, said: "Though this is just the beginning, we will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere, as many as possible as soon possible."
Some 15million of the UK's most vulnerable are set to get the inoculation by late February, officials hope.
It means that within weeks, Britain could be free of lockdowns altogether – and people can finally hug their loved ones.
As of Boxing Day, 24million people in the south and east are now in the country's strictest Tier 4, with non-essential shops closed and household mixing banned.
Boris Johnson said the tough rules are needed to tackle a mutant strain of Covid surging through the country.
Yet it's now believed we may have to hold on for just a few more weeks before life begins to return to normal.
Matt Hancock said this morning he will be announcing further measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 following the latest rise in the number of cases.
"We are facing a very significant challenge in the NHS right now," he told Sky News.
"There has been a significant rise in the number of cases – the highest number of cases recorded yesterday, 53,000 cases.
"We are going to have to take further action. I'm going to set that out the House of Commons later today."
The UK’s Vaccines Minister told The Sun the massive effort to develop a vaccine had been heroic – and displayed “the best of British at every stage”.
Nadhim Zahawi said: “The heroic efforts of the team at the University of Oxford have paid off, with its home-grown vaccine shown to be effective in older people as well as young.
“From day one of the pandemic, people from across the nation have been working day and night to find a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine.
"We have seen the best of British at every stage, from our world-leading scientists working around the clock to carry out vital research, to builders and engineers constructing new facilities.
“Manufacturers are boosting their capabilities and hundreds of thousands of people in every corner of the UK are taking part in clinical trials — developing, finding and preparing for a vaccine has involved us all."
The UK has already ordered a whopping 100million doses of the jab – adding to the 40million vaccines already paid for from Pfizer.
Around 800,000 Brits have been given the first of two Pfizer shots, Boris Johnson has revealed.
But just 10 days ago, Jeremy Hunt warned stocks of the drug – the first to be approved anywhere in the world – were running low, and may not be replenished until March.
How does the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine work?
The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.
Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).
The virus is genetically modified so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus's specific "spike protein" – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.
When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus.
This induces an immune response, priming the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.
It differs from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because they use messenger RNA technology (mRNA).
Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus's genetic code.
An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.
These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.
No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine. This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is accelerated
However, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency's approval of the Oxford's jabs mean they can be given to millions from the week beginning January 4, even if further Pfizer stocks slow until the spring.
Sports stadiums and conference centres will be used as massive vaccination hubs, with ministers planning to have two million jab administered within a fortnight.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Oxford drug can be kept in a standard fridge – rather than at an ultra-cold -70C.
That means it's cheaper and easier to transport and store, with the jabs set to be manufactured in Oxford and Newcastle.
The good news is much-needed as Brits face a new mutation in the virus.
The variation, found in Kent, spreads much more easily, although is not believed to otherwise be more dangerous.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said there is "some evidence that the increase may be particularly marked in children."
They found that the new strain of the virus is 56 per cent more infectious – and that even with another national lockdown, it would be difficult to get the R rate down.
But politicians are hopeful that the pandemic may soon be under control.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak believes 2021 will be a “new era” for Britain.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday he said: “This has been a tough year for everyone in this country.
“There will be tough days and months ahead, but there are reasons to look ahead to a brighter future and what 2021 promises.
“The early roll-out of vaccines – and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS – means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic.”
And last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "The great hope for 2021 is of course the vaccine.
"The vaccine is our route out of all this, and however tough this Christmas and this winter is going to be, we know that the transforming force of science is helping to find a way through."
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