Hospitals in England have been told to get ready to receive coronavirus jabs in as soon as 10 days, it has been reported.
Doctors could receive the first deliveries of a vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech between December 7 and December 9, with regulatory approval expected in days.
NHS staff are expected to be first in line for the jab, even though interim guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) prioritised older care home residents over health workers, who were on even footing with over-80s.
But health officials have warned that due to the delicate composition of the Pfizer jab, it risks becoming ineffective or unstable if it is moved and taken out of -70C temperatures more than four times.
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The vaccine will already have been moved from Pfizer’s production line in Belgium and then to British storage hubs before arriving in UK hospitals.
A senior executive told the Guardian: ‘We’ve been told to expect the vaccine on 7 December and plan to start vaccinating our staff all that week.
‘However, it’s the Pfizer vaccine we’re getting, so it can’t be moved again once it gets to us and we then have to use it within five days, as that’s its shelf life.’
Despite its prioritisation of care home residents and over-80s, the JCVI’s guidance also said the final decision on how health workers would be prioritised would depend on the vaccine’s characteristics.
The time frame of the jab being rolled out will depend on if and when it is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
It is understood no date has been confirmed by NHS England for the rollout of the vaccine, which early results suggest is 95% effective.
However, it is also thought that 10 days would be a reasonable time frame should the vaccine be approved soon.
On November 20, the Health Secretary said he had formally asked the medicines regulator to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use in the UK.
Matt Hancock hailed it as ‘another important step forward in tackling this pandemic’.
But he said while the regulator’s approval would see a rollout ready to start next month, there is ‘still a long way to go’.
The MHRA confirmed on Monday it had received the necessary data to progress its review into whether the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine meets the required standards.
The UK has ordered 40million doses of the Pfizer jab and expects 10million doses by the end of the year.
Britain has also ordered 100million doses of a vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which does not need to be kept at such low temperatures.
The jab and has also been sent to the MHRA for approval, and could be given the green light as early as next week, according to Government sources.
Senior health officials previously said GPs in England will be given 10 days’ notice before any Covid vaccine rollout begins.
A letter from Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s medical director of primary care, and Ed Waller, NHS England’s director for primary care, also thanked GPs for their efforts during the pandemic and praised their ‘fantastic response’ to setting up vaccination sites.
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