In this first of our mini-series on the Covid-19 vaccines, we give an overview of what a vaccine is, the existing vaccines and our work relating to the pandemic.
In the last couple of months there’s been a lot of talk about the Covid-19 vaccine which is currently being rolled out in the UK.
With the announcement of a new national lockdown on 4th January 2021, we now have a new national target for the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines which is currently increasing its pace.
As a charity concerned with wellbeing, we’ve decided to publish a series looking at the Covid-19 vaccines. This is the first of this series and here we will be giving an overview of the Covid-19 vaccines.
Here, we will shed some light on a topic that often leads to confusion or misunderstanding. And we will help to explain why vaccination can offer a way out of the pandemic.
We believe that we have a responsibility to challenge inaccurate information that is spreading, especially given the seriousness of the pandemic.
Just to be clear, we are not experts in virology or related scientific fields, nor do we claim to have all the answers. What we hope to do is cut through some of the myths with reliable, publicly available information and offer some reassurance in this difficult time.
Vaccination: What is it?
Vaccines contain the pathogens (a microscopic organism that can cause illness, think germs) that cause a disease.
These pathogens have either been killed or weakened to the point that they won’t make somebody ill.
And like getting the full illness, vaccines stimulate your body to produce antibodies. This means after getting vaccinated you will develop immunity to the illness.
With Covid-19, this means once people get vaccinated they will normally be immune to the virus – we will get onto the details of this in a moment. This would dramatically reduce the risks, saving lives and offering a way out of the pandemic that has affected so many aspects of people’s lives.
This isn't a remotely new practice either - vaccines have been in use for over 200 years. With the physician Edward Jenner introducing a vaccine in 1796.
The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The vaccine was approved in record time while going through the official approval process from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the official body charged with regulating and approving new medicines.
The agency fast-tracked the process, which it is permitted to do under the Medicines Act 1968 if this helps ‘address significant public health issues such as a pandemic’. You can read more about how it was developed and approved so quickly here.
And on 8th December, Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother, became the first person in the UK to receive a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
As of last month, the UK has ordered 40 million doses, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people against Covid-19.
According to the British Medical Journal, the vaccine is 95% after recipient has received the second dose. Hence, while this vaccine will not mean that every single recipient is immune, it does have a very high effectiveness rate.
This is not the only vaccine. Another vaccine being rolled out is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which in trials was around 90% effective when volunteers were given a half dose, followed by a full dose.
And the UK has currently ordered a smaller number of the Moderna vaccine, which has been approved in the United States – but will have to go through the approval process here. You can read about the Moderna vaccine here and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine here.
The Vaccine Roll-out
The roll-out of the vaccines in the United Kingdom is now well underway.
By the 27th December more than 940,000 people had received a first dose. As local vaccination clinics open to speed up the process and the roll-out gathers momentum, this number will likely rise rapidly. According to the BBC, the NHS is planning to double this figure in the next week.
According to the Financial Times, the government plan for this number to rise to 2 million doses a week of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of January.
The government also plan for everybody in four ‘priority groups’ to have received their first dose by mid-February. The groups are in order of priority:
In order to reach the mid-February target, the number of doses will need to increase a little bit beyond the end of January target.
Though a lot of progress has been made, the roll-out won’t be easy and the National Audit Office issued a warning in late December of ‘complex logistical challenges’.
At Meridian Wellbeing, the pandemic has led us to move our work online and to create our new website. This allows people to continue to access activities, resources and events to support their wellbeing. This includes our monthly Wellbeing Days, our Peer Support Project, our CBT group webinars and our series of wellbeing webinars.
Since the outbreak began, with many people feeling isolated and worried about the future, this has been really important, and those using our services tell us how much of difference we have made.
The vaccine offers a chance to get the virus under control. And with the virus under control, we will all be in a better place for restrictions to be eased in the future.
Over the last 9 months, we have seen the tremendous impact the pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing and how it has complicated people’s lives, changing how we live, work, communicate and more.
By significantly mitigating the threat the virus poses to people’s health, the successful roll-out of the vaccine is essential. By paving the way for restrictions to begin to be eased this can also have a substantial positive impact on those struggling with issues like isolation or anxiety.
If you’re interested in reading more about myths about the Covid-19 vaccine, UCL’s Dr Jennifer Rohn has spoken to HuffPost about common myths here.
You can find out more about what we are doing to help people with their wellbeing during the pandemic here. You can also listen to our podcast, The Word On Wellbeing, where we talk about wellbeing, mental health and current affairs here.