MP Nadhim Zahawi was named as health minister responsible for the deployment of coronavirus vaccines. His appointment came as it emerged that the Pfizer vaccine was likely to receive regulatory approval by “early to mid December”, with hospitals set to get their first deliveries within a fortnight. Mr Zahawi, who already serves as a business minister, will take on the new role until at least next summer. He said he was “delighted” to be appointed. He tweeted: “A big responsibility and a big operational challenge but absolutely committed to making sure we can roll out vaccines quickly – saving lives and livelihoods and helping us build back better.”
The Stratford-Upon-Avon MP had previously criticised the new tier system of restrictions which come into effect on Wednesday.
On Friday he issued a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed and sad that Warwickshire will be moving into Tier 3”.
The UK has placed orders for 40 million doses of the US Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been shown to be 95 per cent effective.
Last night the Government said it had increased its order for US firm Moderna’s vaccine – also 95 per cent effective – from five million to seven million doses. This will be available in Europe as early as spring.
The Pfizer vaccine is likely to receive regulatory approval by ‘early mid December’
An order for 100 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – has also been placed, with roll-out expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved.
The latest deal means the UK now has access to a total of 357 million doses of vaccines from seven different developers.
Experts said work must now begin to persuade the public to accept vaccines. Polls have shown a sizeable minority reluctant to accept the jab, with one online survey showing four in 10 UK doctors would not have a vaccine as soon as one is approved.
The poll, by medical information website Medscape, found of those doctors who wouldn’t have the jab, 56 percent cited safety concerns, 27 percent would rather wait, 7 percent mentioned personal health reasons and 14 percent had “other” reasons.
Matt Hancock has reassured that vaccine developments are seeing ‘positive’ outcomes
And when asked about vaccinations for healthcare staff, 59 percent said they should not be compulsory.
Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said most people who question vaccines are not “anti-vaxxers” against them altogether – but have concerns about them.
Speaking to the Sunday Express, Professor Larson said: “We need to be in communities and hearing what people’s concerns are.
“We need to understand what their questions are. We cannot wait until we are standing there with a vaccine. We need people to feel in the loop and we need to keep the conversation going because people end up with alternative narratives when they do not have clear explanations to their individual concerns.
Nadhim Zahawi was named as health minister responsible for the deployment of the Covid jab
“These concerns will vary according to each person and each community. People need to know that you care about them.”
She added: “Anti-vaxxers are one extreme but I am more worried about the 80 percent who are in the middle and increasingly sceptical about
vaccines, partly fuelled by digital technology and excessive information at their fingertips.”
Last week US commentators questioned the safety of the UK vaccine produced by a partnership between Oxford University’s research institute and drug giant AstraZeneca after it was revealed that its promising results came from two different trials using two different dosing schemes.
However Professor Larson said: “Take a deep breath. I would urge people to hang in there. The story isn’t over with the Oxford-Astra Zeneca data and I don’t think a vaccine will be approved without adequate efficacy and safety data.
“We have been getting earlier-than-usual trial results because there is such eagerness to get information. Normally it is best to wait for the final information. This has given us hope that the vaccine is effective and is almost there.”
Speaking about the Pfizer vaccine on the BBC yesterday, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said he thought it would be approved by “early to mid December”.
But he said the roll out would be a challenge as the vaccine needs to be stored at below minus 70 degrees. He said: “This is a huge logistical task that we’re doing at real pace, so I can’t believe there won’t be bumps in the road.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “It is essential that we continue to bolster our portfolio of vaccine candidates to ensure we’re in the best possible position to protect the public once we see that breakthrough.
The UK has access to a total of 357 million doses of vaccines from seven different developers
The UK was one of the first countries in Europe to sign a deal with Moderna, and I’m delighted we have been able to secure a further two million doses of their promising candidate for the British public.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Every week, we are getting more positive news about the range of vaccines in development and, thanks to the work of our taskforce, the UK has pre-ordered from those com-panies most advanced in their work.
“With a wide range of vaccine candidates in our portfolio, we stand ready to deploy a vaccine should they receive approval from our medicines regulator, starting with those who will benefit most.”