The Handbook
The Handbook

Yesterday was D-Day! The fight against coronavirus is not yet won, but we have a viable beachhead on enemy territory and we can only win the war from here. There’s a vaccine! But before you start rolling up the sleeve of your non-dominant arm, let’s get a few things straight.

Yesterday the race to be the first company to announce they have a viable vaccine against coronavirus was won by the maker of Viagra, Pfizer. The sex drug manufacturer has proved that in 90% of cases their vaccine is effective against the killer virus. The news was met with elation by the markets, with stocks in restaurants, airlines and other covid-hit businesses skyrocketing (and Zoom’s share price plummeting 17%). But how excited should we be and how significant is all this?

Hurrah! Pass me the syringe…

Not so fast! The vaccine needs to be approved first, which will take some time as the data from the Pfizer test is peer reviewed and assessed by the UK regulator, the MHRA.

So how long will that take?

This really depends. The regulator is fiercely independent and the fact that the manufacturer of a blockbuster drug is upbeat about its billion dollar payday product isn’t altogether surprising, and could still be dealt a dose of reality by the independent scientists. But given how positive the reaction of the scientific community has been, we’re expecting that the government’s vague ‘by Christmas’ guide for emergency use approval holds.

This morning Matt Hancock told the NHS to be prepared for vaccinations by the start of December, with the lion’s share happening in spring.

The fact that the manufacturer of a blockbuster drug is upbeat about its billion dollar payday product isn't altogether surprising

Great, and then you can jab me?

Well it depends who you are. The government has announced a provisional list of priority when it comes to doling out the vaccine. And if you’re reading this the chances are that you’re pretty low down the list…

Starting with ‘older adults’ in care homes along with care home workers, followed by everyone over 80 years old plus NHS workers, and then it cascades down through age brackets and the vulnerable until number 11 on the list ‘the rest of the population’, which is everyone under 50.

That could take a while, right?

That’s several million adults to inject (twice, most vaccines need a booster after three or four weeks), so the idea that the entire population can be inoculated before Christmas is pretty fanciful.

So what does that mean for this lockdown? Can we head down to ‘Spoons now?

S’no you can’t. And stop calling it ‘Spoons. In yesterday’s Downing Street news conference Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam made it clear that the vaccine’s arrival will have no impact on this wave of coronavirus. Even if we start vaccinating people right now there there won’t be enough time for it to take effect. But it should make a significant impact on future waves.

How will they actually inject 70 million Brits?

Good question. If there’s one lesson we can take from test, track and trace then it’s not to have crazily high expectations. The plan is for GPs and pharmacists, assisted by the army, to do the actual sticking it in your arm. Using sports halls and community centres it’s hoped that they can get people through the system quickly. We’ll see.

Do they have enough of the, um, vaccine juice?

I think it’s called serum. And hopefully yes. The UK government has ordered 40 million doses (enough for 20 million of us) and they have also put in orders for another 90 million doses of other vaccines, which should be enough to keep us going for now.

Are there other vaccines in the pipeline?

Yeah, loads. Like 200. And it’s very likely that future vaccines will be even more effective. Hopes here are pinned on Oxford University’s tie-up with AstraZeneca, which the government has invested heavily in. The signs are that it’s on-track and encouraging, which should give us two vaccines by the end of the year.

Restaurants: remember those?

So what should I do now?

Literally nothing. Keep on with lockdown and wait patiently. But at least we can now have a concrete hope for the first time since March…


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