Vaccine approval by the MHRA and the early supplies of the Pfizer drug from Belgium are both welcome, only anti-vaxers would say otherwise, but why has the government suddenly altered the top priority recipients from NHS staff to care home residents – surely this is not a reflection of the public outcry or lobbying by the care industry? More likely it is down to supply logistics given that from January 2021 drugs manufactured in Europe might not enter the UK quite as speedily.
As I understand it, the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses a month apart to be effective, but the most vulnerable will still get some protection from the first dose, hence care home residents not NHS staff become top priority. Supplies from January will depend on the Brexit deal still being finalised in early December. Exiting the EU without a deal could result in more delays to supply for drugs entering the UK from Europe than might be the case if a deal is struck. Nobody knows at this stage but this must feature in the UK government procurement of Pfizer vaccine supplies this month.
The MRHA approved the Pfizer vaccine within 10 months, compared with the more prudent 10 years. Both US and EU regulators have expressed concern and suggested this haste is risky, yet the MHRA, a government agency, has taken great pains to emphasise that public safety was always a primary concern and corners have not been cut. Given the political pressure they are under to get stocks into the country before 31 December, this should not be a surprise. However I am keen to get my vaccine as soon as possible given the health risk of not getting one, it is a no-brainer.
The Oxford vaccine is also expected to be approved by the MHRA and this can be manufactured in the UK so there should be less supply risk, however this is weeks away and is also being rushed through regulatory approval, mindful that an ‘independent’ regulator is always a tool of government and this government wants good news stories. The Christmas break is evidence of how much sway the behaviourists in ‘Nudge’ unit has over cabinet in contrast to the ‘science’ from SAGE unit.
The Chancellor thinks Covid will damage the economy more than Brexit, but the governor of the bank of England thinks the opposite. The two perils are surely not inseparable and this month the two come together: the rush to get as much Belgian manufactured vaccine into the UK before midnight on 31 December is evidence of how both Brexit and Covid collide. It would be nice to hear news of effective new vaccine tests – simpler than the PCR and more reliable than lateral flow – but for now the vaccine is the main story.