The Pfizer vaccine: When will people in the UK get it?

pfizer vaccine, astrazeneca
© Narint Asawaphisith

Yesterday (9 November), at 6:45am in the US, the Pfizer vaccine was revealed to be over 90% effective – so when will the successful drug be available for the UK to use?

The problem of how the UK can permanently exit pandemic measures has always been described as dependent on widespread vaccination. Through this rationale, some politicians have advocated for a less rigorous winter lockdown – pointing to the economy, and the necessity of keeping it alive. However, those who want to keep the population as alive as possible were successful in pushing for a widespread lockdown, minus schools – which are carrying on as they were in Tier 3 areas.

The beginning half of 2021 is the timeline for access to any vaccine in the UK, but it appears that Pfizer have taken the lead in this race. Right now, the UK has an ongoing vaccine trial at Phase 3, for AZD1222. This is more commonly known as the AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine – which uses a similar spike protein mechanism to the Pfizer one, further raising hopes about the eventual power of this drug.

It appears that Pfizer could be the first to launch a successful vaccine.

The drug could be given to the UK population in “many months”, according to former Department of Health Special Advisor Jamie Njoku-Goodwin.

According to Politico, the UK Government have already ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is in addition to the already-bought 300 million doses of various other vaccines from global trials.

Who will access any UK vaccine first?

Sensibly, the most medically vulnerable people. The UK has purchased enough of the Pfizer vaccine to immunise 20 million people, as one person will need two shots.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation published a clear guideline on this in September, which gives us a strong understanding of how people will be prioritised despite needing finalisation from PM Boris Johnson.

According to this list, the first people to be vaccinated will be the oldest people in care homes, and care home workers. After this, all people over the age of 80, alongside health and social care workers. Thirdly, the 75+ age range, then 70+, then 65+, then high-risk adults under 65. After this, moderate risk adults under 65, then all people aged 60+, then 55+, then 50+ and finally everyone else.

When will the Pfizer vaccine be available for UK use?

Pfizer made a great breakthrough with their results yesterday (9 November), but they have yet to pass more essential safety and efficiency checks with their vaccine. After the second dose of vaccination on trial participants, Pfizer will wait another 14 days to see how well the drug continues to work. The most crucial question, asked of antibodies throughout this pandemic, is how long can this vaccine last? Once this is established through more trial results, the Pfizer vaccine will be closer to shippable.

On the other hand, the UK Government has to be ready to ship it. Speaking more in a Twitter thread last night, former Matt Hancock protegee Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said that the UK will face the “biggest logistical effort since WW2.” The supply route for vaccinations must be a cold chain, which means that all elements being shipped must be kept at the right temperature or they will be ruined. The UK frozen food industry is estimated to be worth in excess of £8 billion and the chilled food industry in excess of £11 billion, but shipping medicines in multiple doses will require significantly different frameworks to how the UK receives a bag of frozen peas.

Essentially, the optimistic January 2021 date for mass vaccination access may not be possible due to extended safety trials and the prioritisation of the highly vulnerable. After assessing the elements in play, it seems that Spring will be the most optimistic, plausible time for a vaccine to be given to the whole population.

Speaking about the possibility of ending lockdown with well-targeted doses, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We do not yet know whether or when a vaccine is approved, but I have tasked the NHS with being ready from any date from December 1.”

Tweeting last night, PM Boris Johnson implied that lockdown was going to continue regardless: “The biggest mistake we could make now would be to slacken our resolve at such a critical moment.”


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