How effective is the Covid-19 vaccine, and how is it different to Pfizer?

Do you need two doses of the Oxford vaccine?

The MHRA has recommended the over-18s should receive two doses to be administered with an interval of between four and 12 weeks.

When will I get my second dose?

The Government announced on Dec 30 that it was delaying the second dose of every vaccine in order to reach as many people as possible in the first round of vaccinations.

Both the Oxford vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech jab will be given to people as one shot, followed by another up to 12 weeks later, in order to extend some protection to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

This is not without controversy, however.

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says unpublished data suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is still effective with doses 12 weeks apart – but Pfizer has said it has tested its vaccine’s efficacy only when the two doses were given up to 21 days apart.

The World Health Organisation has recommended a gap of four weeks between doses – to be extended only in exceptional circumstances to six weeks.

Will the vaccines be given out 24 hours a day?

In a further bid to accelerate vaccination, Boris Johnson has announced that 24-hour vaccine centres will be opened “as soon as we can”, with the the head of NHS England confirming on Jan 17 that several hospitals will trial 24/7 vaccine centres within the next ten days.

Matt Hancock, however, told BBC Breakfast a 24/7 approach was unlikely to be “the major factor” in hitting the mid-February target, but he was “absolutely” behind it “if it helps speed things up”. 

Sources in Whitehall have said that plans are in place to pilot a 24-hour vaccination centre to test demand. This comes as manufacturing companies have told ministers that they will not yet be able to produce enough vaccines should 24-hour roll out be introduced across the country. 

Supplying vaccinations overnight will speed up the rollout, and allow the Government to reach their goal of vaccinating 32 million people- 60 per cent of the UK adult population by Spring-which was announced on Jan 11. 

Can this vaccine help the elderly?

There have been concerns that a Covid-19 vaccine will not work as well on elderly people, much like the annual flu jab.

However, data from the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial suggests there have been “similar” immune responses among younger and older adults.

The results show that the vaccine is better tolerated in older people compared with younger adults, and produces a similar immune response in old and young adults.

Can pregnant women have the vaccine?

Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers have now been given the green light to take either the Oxford and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines following an appropriate case-by-case risk evaluation with their healthcare practitioner.

This is a reversal of previous advice which was put in place as precautionary measure.

Traditionally pregnant women are not included in clinical trials, but following a review the MHRA are recommending pregnant women be given the opportunity to receive the vaccine as as there is no evidence they would be at risk.

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said: “Our advice to date has been that given that in initial lack of evidence on a precautionary basis, use of a vaccine wasn’t recommended in pregnancy and women with breastfeeding should not be given the vaccine.

“But now that we have reviewed further data that has become available, the Commission on Human medicines has advised that the vaccine can be considered for use in pregnancy when the potential benefits outweigh the risks following an individual discussion with every woman.”

Can people with allergies have the vaccine?

The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine was temporarily halted for those who are known to suffer from severe allergic reactions following a handful of adverse events in the initial distribution of the vaccine. 

There were some concerns that this would also apply to the Oxford jab. 

However, following a review, the UK regulatory body has recommended both the Pfizer and Oxford vaccine are safe to administer to those with food or medicine allergies. 

Only those who have a known history of reacting to vaccines in the past should proceed with caution.

Sir Munir Pirmohamed, clinical pharmacologist and geneticist, and chairman of Commission on Human Medicine Expert Working Group, said. “We’ve come to the recommendation people with a known history of reacting to any specific ingredients of vaccine should not have it. But people with allergies to other medicines or food can have the vaccine.”

Dr June Raine added that “at least 800,000 in the UK, probably a million and a half in the US” have already received the Pfizer vaccine. 

There has been “no additional concerns and this gives us further assurance that the risk of anaphylaxis can be managed through standard clinical guidance and an observation period following vaccination of at least 15 minutes.

Read more: The priority list for the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines – and how they will be rolled out

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