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From the file

The Vaccine | Our way out of the coronavirus pandemic has been discovered – but not yet delivered.

A user’s guide

Thursday 14 January 2021


When 90-year-old Margaret Keenan received her Covid-19 vaccine last month it kicked off the biggest vaccination programme in British history. Tens of millions of doses are to be administered in the coming months.

To help you make sense of that programme, we have put together this user’s guide: clear information on where, when and how you could be receiving one of the three vaccines currently approved in the UK. And there’s more, including how the UK rollout compares to those in other countries, as well as when we might hope to see those gut-wrenching daily death figures start to fall.

We begin, though, with our vaccine tracker – a count of total current doses in the UK – which will be updated as new data becomes available.

How many vaccines have been delivered so far?

Who is first in line?

The first priority of the official “UK Covid-19 vaccines delivery plan” (as it is known) is to vaccinate the top four most vulnerable groups, as defined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). 

According to the plan, people who fall into those priority groups account for approximately 88 per cent of the deaths from Covid so far. The next five vulnerable groups, down to those aged 50 and over, are then set to be offered vaccination by spring. 

If the nine groups are all vaccinated, 32 million people across the UK will be immunised against the virus.

Currently, about one in 25 people have been vaccinated against the virus in the UK. As health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Monday, this includes two fifths of over-80s receiving their first dose, and one quarter of older care home residents.

How does the UK’s vaccination rate compare?

Is the UK’s vaccine rollout really “world beating,” as ministers like to claim? Although we are close to the top of the global leader board, and ahead of many countries in Europe, we are still behind other countries on both overall and per capita measures.

As of 12 January, 29.5 million people around the world have been vaccinated. Our live trackers, below, will update as global data rolls in.

Where will I be vaccinated?

Of course, you can’t vaccinate at speed without the facilities to do so, and with the known cold-storage constraints on some vaccines, this isn’t an easy job. The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has said that by the end of January everyone will live within ten miles of a vaccination centre. These centres are likely to take many forms, including large-scale venues such as the ExCeL Centre in London, and smaller venues such as local GP surgeries and pharmacies. Remote areas are even likely to get their own roving vaccination services.  

Local vaccination centres

Hospital hubs and mass venues

Use our tool to find your nearest vaccination centres

Enter your postcode to see your closest local vaccination site, hospital vaccination hub and mass vaccination centre.

How long will it take?

The government has set a target of 15 February for offering the vaccine to those top four priority groups (note: offering, not administering – a distinction that Matthew d’Ancona highlighted in his audio essay). That means that, with 11.4 million still to be vaccinated with their first dose, we need to be vaccinating around 2.5 million people a week, or 360,000 a day. According to Hancock, vaccinations were at a rate of 210,000 a day, or 1.47 million a week, between 7 and 10 January. 

The government has reportedly recruited an 80,000-strong workforce and plans to rapidly increase the number of testing sites to increase the speed of rollout. But will that be enough?  

What are the vaccines?

The currently approved vaccines may all treat the same virus, but that doesn’t mean they all work the same. Below, you will find a summary of each, it’s efficacy and where it came from. On efficacy, it is important to note that the data comes from different vaccine trials with different methods, so we oughtn’t rush into making direct comparisons. Also noteworthy: vaccine trials have so far measured symptomatic reaction to the virus, not the chance of catching and spreading Covid. Clear data on that susceptibility is not yet available. 

From the lab to your arm

The UK has ordered a total of 367 million vaccine doses, at an expected cost of £2.9bn across the five contracts signed to date. However, this does not mean that all those doses will be available immediately. 

The approvals for each vaccine have happened at record-breaking speed. But this has not been at the cost of safety, with the vaccines still having to go through rigorous testing by the manufacturers and, in the UK, by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Of course, this can cause delays – as can the general supply chain, which is coming under increasing pressure. Crucial bottlenecks have been brought to light as more countries approve and develop new vaccinations.

It is here where the UK government might hit a barrier in the the race to meet its vaccine targets; what Hancock has called the “rate limiting factor”.

Glossary

Efficacy. The percentage reduction in disease incidence in a vaccinated group, versus an unvaccinated group. Or, vaccine effectiveness. Be careful with direct comparisons. Efficacy applies to each vaccine’s particular trials. 

Vaccine. This may seem basic, but what really is a vaccine? Ultimately, vaccines reduce the risk of getting a disease by working with your immune system to build protection. When you are vaccinated, your immune system responds (this is why you may have mild side effects after receiving a vaccination).

mRNA. Messenger RNA viruses are a new type of vaccine, but don’t conflate that with lack of research. These vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that trigger a response inside our bodies, which produces the antibodies you need to protect against a virus. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines. 

Adenovirus. Like the mRNA vaccines, the aim of an Adenovirus vaccine is to get the genetic material into your cells and encourage you to make virus proteins. The difference is that, instead of a single strand RNA, it’s via double-stranded DNA. This makes the vaccine “tougher,” which is why the Adenovirus Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can face warmer temperatures in storage. 

Herd immunity. This is indirect protection from a contagious and infectious disease. For example, when people who haven’t had a vaccine, or who have already had an antibody response, don’t get infected because a “buffer” of immunised people prevents it. Once we have herd immunity it slowly kills the infection rate of a virus, as happened with smallpox.

Next in this file

Further reading

Further reading

The coronavirus vaccine is a remarkable scientific achievement – but so, too, is vaccination in general. Here is a selection of extra reading material, from history books to recent polling numbers, so that you can discover more

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