The news today that the MHRA has approved the AstraZeneca adenoviral ChAdOx1 nCoV-190 vaccine for use in the UK is excellent news for the Covid-19 vaccination programme. The results of the vaccine trial published in the Lancet earlier in December were encouraging, even if the overall efficacy of 70% was lower than the 90-95% being reported for mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The vaccine still prevented serious cases of illness amongst the recipients.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper than the mRNA vaccines and can be stored in a conventional vaccine fridge. Hence, it is an easier vaccine to use in primary care and community settings, including in low and middle income countries. The most commonly reported adverse reactions from the vaccine were fatigue, headache, feverishness, and myalgia. More serious adverse events were rare and not believed to be directly related to the vaccine.
One caveat for all the Covid-19 vaccines is that we don’t yet know how long the immunity they generate will last. We also don’t yet know if they stop people being infectious. As more data becomes available, we will be able to better answer these important two questions.
Now that the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved by the MHRA, we need to see it rapidly rolled out by the NHS. The vaccine is highly suited for use in UK primary care as it can be stored in the standard vaccine fridge found in all general practices; and given to patients either opportunistically when they attend for an appointment for another problem or in dedicated vaccination clinics. It can also be much more easily used for people living in care homes and for housebound patients than the mRNA vaccines.
To ensure successful delivery of the vaccination programme, it’s essential that primary care teams and general practices are given all the support they need for the Covid-19 vaccination programme. Now is not the time for penny-pinching or for repeating the many mistakes made in the other parts of the government’s Covnd-19 strategy. We also need the government to be transparent about the amount of vaccine available for use now. Although the government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine (enough for all adults in the UK), we need the government to be clear what the timescale is for delivering the vaccine to the NHS and how much vaccine the NHS will be supplied with during the crucial month of January.
Vaccination offers the UK the only way out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rapid delivery of vaccines to target groups and a high uptake of vaccination amongst the public are essential if we are to start to return life in the UK to normal.