15th December 2020
If you’ve been keeping your eyes on the news this week, you may have seen the UK’s roll out of the new COVID-19 vaccine.
However, you may be wondering how does the vaccine actually work? Or are there any side effects? In our latest article, we’ve put together a quick rundown on what you need to know about the UK’s COVID-19 vaccine.
How does the vaccine work?
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the first vaccine that has been approved for use in humans. It is a new type of vaccine. Most vaccines use either live or dead virus (ones that doesn’t cause the infection you’re vaccinating against) to prime the immune system to respond for when the real virus comes along.
However, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine introduces some mRNA (messenger RNA, which is the molecule that essentially puts DNA instructions into action), which uses the body’s own cells to produce a small part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, which then primes the immune system to respond.
Who is making the UK’s COVID-19 vaccine?
The vaccine has been developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
How has the COVID-19 vaccine been tested?
Normally, a vaccine takes many many years to develop and test. This vaccine has been brought to market in record time. It has still undergone the rigorous testing that you’d expect to see of any vaccine, starting with laboratory trials, then followed up with animal and human trials. The findings of a recently published clinical trial of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine are very impressive indeed.
A whopping 43,548 participants were randomised to either receive the vaccine or the placebo. The huge numbers of volunteers who signed up to participate, meant that analysis could be undertaken in a shorter period of time, which lead to the vaccine being rolled out quickly. Two doses 21 days apart showed that the vaccine was 95% effective in reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
What are the side effects of the vaccine?
The safety profile of the vaccine is good, with only short term and mild side effects reported, such as pain at the injection side, headache and fatigue.
How and when is the UK’s vaccine being rolled out?
The vaccine is currently being offered to the highest risk groups for COVID-19. In the UK, the prioritisation for the vaccine is as follows:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers.
- Those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers.
- Those 75 years of age and over.
- Those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.
- Those 65 years of age and over.
- Individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
- Those 60 years of age and over.
- Those 55 years of age and over.
- Those 50 years of age and over.
It is estimated that taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19. The NHS will be in charge of issuing the vaccine, and will be contacting individuals to arrange for their vaccination.
What is the new strain of the COVID-19 virus?
The new strain of the virus announced yesterday by the Health Secretary (while announcing new restrictions for certain regions), contains a set of mutations associated with a strain spreading rapidly in the South East England. The new strain is under ongoing investigation by UK Public Health Agencies.
Coronaviruses, like other respiratory viruses such as influenza may mutate when they replicate. There is currently no evidence that this, or any other of the 4,000 variants studied so far has any impact on disease severity, or that it will render vaccines less effective, although both of these questions are being speedily examined.
RELATED CONTENT: Further information on the genomics of COVID is available from the UK COG Consortium.
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