The vaccine is here

FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - December 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Philippine nurses will be at the frontline of the roll-out of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccination program, but community and professional organizations have voiced their concerns about the mass program.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom became the first country to have a clinically authorized coronavirus vaccine for widespread use. It’s a stunning achievement that means the Pfizer/BioNtech version will be rolled out from next week for those most at risk.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), authorized the vaccine for emergency use before decisions by the US and Europe. It’s been carrying out a rolling approval process, scrutinizing data from early trials as they came in, so a process that usually takes 10 years took just 10 months.

The head of the MHRA said that – despite the speed of approval – no corners have been cut. Batches of the vaccine will be tested in labs “so that every single vaccine that goes out meets the same high standards of safety,” she said. Batch testing has been completed for the first 800,000 doses of the vaccine that will be available for the whole of the UK, according to Matt Hancock, the health secretary.

The UK has bought 40 million doses of the vaccine, which has been shown to have 95 percent efficacy in its final trials. It’s a huge win for the researchers behind the brand new science behind the vaccine. It’s the first ever mRNA or messenger RNA vaccine. “To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies,” explains the US Centers for Disease Control on its website.

“The emergency use authorisation in the UK will mark the first time citizens outside of the trials will have the opportunity to be immunized against COVID-19,” said U?ur ?ahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.

“We believe that the rollout of the vaccination program in the UK will reduce the number of people in the high-risk population being hospitalized. Our aim is to bring a safe and effective vaccine upon approval to the people who need it. The data submitted to regulatory agencies around the world are the result of a scientifically rigorous and highly ethical research and development program.”

The NHS will start vaccinating from ‘early next week’ according to the priorities set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which advised that the first priorities for any COVID-19 vaccination program should be to prevent deaths and protect health and social care staff and systems. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers will come first, followed by people who are 80 years and older, and frontline health and social care workers.

The Kanlungan Filipino Consortium said that the vaccine “provides hope and reassurance to those who are vulnerable and susceptible to its devastating effects.”

Their statement remembered “the large number of deaths among Filipino health workers, and other health workers, during the first wave when thousands of them had to work without adequate personal protective equipment, when supplies were promised but did not materialize, when the government relied on suppliers who provided the wrong kind of equipment. We are also aware of how many Filipino health workers experienced discrimination in the allocation of dangerous tasks and lack of supply of PPE.”

Meanwhile, the Philippine Nurses Association (UK)’s Dennis Singson said that from a healthcare perspective, their opinion is that those receiving the vaccine in its early formulation should be made completely aware of the possible short- and long-term effects of the vaccine, which is made up of a synthetic mRNA which mimics the real virus in producing a virus protein which helps it gain entry to the cells to produce damage. Those receiving the vaccine as well as the general public should be aware and fully informed. The PNA (UK) generally welcomes the approval of the vaccine with reservations, believing that its benefits outweigh the disadvantages it may bring in the future.

The group is advocating that individuals or group of professionals who are in the highest risk of contaminating and contracting COVID-19 receive the vaccine first as a matter of protecting those who will look after the ill and the infirm.

Adding to the statement, Singson, who works in primary care in the southern English county Sussex, said, “I don’t know how we can administer this though, as we are still in the process of doing the ‘usual’ flu vaccinations and we don’t know how we can fit this in our clinic hours. My surgery had been doing the flu vaccines every Saturday so it won’t disrupt usual clinic schedules, and we’re not even halfway through it as my colleagues have had to do more than the usual number of home visits to administer it. How much more if we need to do both without being given extra resources and manpower to do so?”

The UK government hopes to get life back to pre-COVID levels of activity next year. The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine’s approval coincided with the week when the UK became the first country in Europe to reach 60,000 deaths from COVID-19. Events are exposing weaknesses in the system and tension in international ties, even as the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson crowed over its success. The Education Secretary claimed the vaccine’s approval wouldn’t have been possible if the UK hadn’t left the European Union, even though it’s developed and manufactured in Germany and Belgium. The MHRA was given power to approve the vaccine by the government under special regulations before Jan. 1, when it will become fully responsible for medicines authorization in the UK after Brexit. The deadline for a trade deal with the European Union to replace ties broken by Brexit is at the end of December.

The UK is facing a no-deal Brexit at the same time as the worst economic depression since records began. It will take months for the vaccine to be delivered. The Prime Minister was right to advise continued caution at the same time as he heralded the vaccine good news: “We can’t afford to take our foot off the throat of the beast.”

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