BREAKING NEWS: Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is approved!

BREAKING NEWS: Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is approved!

The United Kingdom (UK) has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine – and it could start a mass vaccination programme as early as next week!

The approval – announced today (December 2) – has led to hope worldwide that this signals the first step in getting Covid-19 under control and returning to a “normal” life.

The vaccine was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK.

The jab – which took just ten months to develop and get approved (this can easily take 10 years) – offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19. The first 800 000 doses will be available next week, and the UK will start inoculating health workers as well as the elderly and most vulnerable. The UK has already placed an order for 40 million vaccine doses.

The news has been widely welcomed by the British people. “I’m confident now, with the news today, that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better. And we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC.

Too fast?

There have been some concerns over the super-fast approval of the vaccination. But the MHRA says there is no reason for apprehension. According to a press statement by the agency, a “dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data, starting in October 2020”.

“This was done using a regulatory process known as a ‘rolling review’. A ‘rolling review’ can be used to complete the assessment of a promising medicine or vaccine during a public health emergency in the shortest time possible. This is done as the packages of data become available from ongoing studies on a staggered basis.

“The MHRA expert scientists and clinicians reviewed data from the laboratory pre-clinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing and quality controls, product sampling and testing of the final vaccine and also considered the conditions for its safe supply and distribution,” it states.

What about SA?

Now that the UK has approved the vaccine, the question is being asked: when will we get it in South Africa? No one knows. What we DO know is that South Africa is going with the Covax global Covid-19 vaccine distribution scheme, with a committed purchase for just 10% of its population of 58 million. This has been reported by Reuters. Covax’s aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

Under Covax, many African countries will qualify for subsidised vaccines. But not South Africa. It is regarded as “an upper middle-income country”. Accordingly, South Africa will pay R500 million to help fund the production of vaccines. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has said that a further R4,5 billion could be necessary to procure vaccines in future.

Khadija Jamaloodien, director of affordable medicines at the health ministry, told Reuters that the Covax facility would give the country an early batch of vaccines with which to start protecting people – but she didn’t say when this would happen.

South Africa will follow the same process as the UK. “Initially the strategy is to protect the vulnerable, which includes our healthcare workers and then those which we will identify as priority groups,” Jamaloodien told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has cautioned that many countries in Africa are not ready to distribute a vaccine. Whether or not this applies to South African remains to be seen. Let’s hope not. Too many lives depend on that jab.

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Charleen Clarke

My friends call me a glomad (a global nomad lest you don’t get it). That’s a particularly apt word, because I am always trawling all corners of the globe, looking for stories. As a result, I have slept in some seriously strange places – on a bed of ice in the Arctic circle, on the floor in a traditional Japanese hotel, on the sand dunes in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan … and even on the floor of a Thai cargo ship. Mostly however I tend to sleep on aircraft (if I had a dog, he would bark at me when I eventually come home). I am passionate about trucks, cars, travel, food, wine, people and hugs – so I write about all these things. Except the hugs.
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