On December 8 2020, less than a month after the government approved the Pfizer vaccine, the first person in the UK received their first dose.
It was the first Covid-19 vaccine to roll out in the UK but shortly afterwards, it was joined by the Oxford vaccine and months later, by the Moderna vaccine. All three have contributed to the UK's successful vaccination programme, which in turn, has allowed for the lockdown roadmap to go ahead as planned. At the moment, there are no warnings that we'll go back into lockdown later this year - although there have been discussions over a potential circuit breaker lockdown in the future.
At the time of writing, over half (54.0%) of the UK population have had both doses of the jab. So where did the Pfizer vaccine come from? Who's next on the list to receive their vaccine? And importantly, is the Pfizer vaccine effective in combating new Covid-19 strains like the Delta variant? These are all questions people have been asking as more information around the Pfizer vaccine comes up.
Who made the Pfizer vaccine and in which country?
An American corporation called Pfizer in New York and BioNTech, a German biotechnology company based in Germany, developed the Pfizer vaccine.
Pfizer is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Over the years, millions of people have used some of the essential medicines that the company creates. One of their most famous inventions is the EpiPen, which is used to treat allergic reactions, while anxiety sufferers might be familiar with Xanax, another of their medications.
However, BioNTech are the originators of the vaccine. Founded by two German scientists, the company normally develop cancer immunotherapies but during the pandemic, they have turned their attention to Covid-19.
How long does the Pfizer vaccine last?
The Pfizer vaccine produces a strong immune system response in the body that may protect against Covid-19 for years, according to a new study.
The research, published in the Nature science journal, discovered that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine offer long-lasting protection against the virus. This adds to the expanding evidence suggesting that those who received a mRNA vaccine may not need a booster dose. However, this is depending on whether the variants evolve again beyond their current condition.
Dr Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist and lead author of the study, said that the findings were a "good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine".
Dr Ellebedy and his team also previously conducted a study on immunity levels in people who had recovered from Covid-19. They found that similar to the vaccine, those who have contracted the illness previously may not need boosters. Based on these study results, scientists are now saying that immunity to Covid-19 from the combined protection of the vaccines and previous infection could last for years - and possibly even a lifetime.
To work out whether the vaccine alone could produce this long-lasting effect, the research team looked at the body's lymph nodes. This is where immune cells train to recognise and fight off the virus. Four months after the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, they discovered that the body's lymph nodes showed high levels of germinal centre B cells. These suggest long-lasting protection from the virus.
However, experts have warned against getting the second Covid vaccine early as this may decrease the levels of protection.
How effective is the Pfizer vaccine?
Public Health England (PHE) confirmed in May that the Pfizer vaccine is 97% effective in preventing death from Covid-19. After the first dose, protection sits at 80% and rises to 97% following the second vaccination.
The vaccine's success was consistent across age, gender, race and all ethnicity demographics, and across participants with a variety of underlying health conditions.
Another report directly from Pfizer confirms this statistic. It also proves that the vaccine is successful in preventing asymptomatic coronavirus infection as well as symptomatic, and those without the vaccine are 44 times more likely to develop symptomatic Covid-19 than those who had been fully vaccinated. Those who haven't had the vaccine are also 29 times more likely to die from Covid-19. It comes after final data was recently released from a Phase 3 study of more than 12000, who were followed-up with at least six months after their second dose.
The proven effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines is one of the reasons why some countries now require proof of Covid-19 vaccine status before allowing travellers from the UK to enter. With proof of double vaccination, countries such as France are allowing visitors to enter without the mandatory quarantine period.
Is the Pfizer vaccine effective against the Delta variant?
A new study from Public Health England (PHE) confirms that the Pfizer vaccine is effective against the Delta variant (first identified in India) after the two doses.
Two jabs of the Pfizer, or Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, offer a good level of protection against symptomatic Covid-19 as a result of the new variant. However, they only offer 33% effectiveness against the Delta variant three weeks after the first dose, compared to 50% effectiveness against the Alpha variant (first identified in Kent).
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock followed up this news at the time, saying he was "increasingly confident" that the final stage of lifting lockdown in England could go ahead as planned. This did not happen in the end and lockdown restrictions ended on July 19.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) have also confirmed that the Pfizer vaccine, along with the Moderna vaccine, is effective in protecting people against the new strain of Covid-19.
The European regulator reviewed data on the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine on this newer variant and vaccine strategy manager, Marco Cavaleri, said at a press conference recently that the results were "encouraging" and "rather reassuring" as the vaccine would work "at least to an extent that will guarantee sufficient protection".
It's for this reason that the Pfizer jab will be offered to those eligible for a third vaccine before the end of the year. From September 2021, those vulnerable to Covid will be invited to book a booster jab for added protection.
Is the Pfizer vaccine effective against the South African variant?
New research has revealed that the Pfizer vaccine is 100% effective in preventing Covid-19 cases in South Africa, where the South African variant - known as B.1.351 - is dominant.
In a study of 800 participants, the nine cases of Covid-19 that were diagnosed were all in the placebo group. This means that those diagnosed with Covid-19 during the study did not receive the vaccine at all, so everyone who did receive the Pfizer vaccine was effectively protected against the South African variant.
This is comforting news amidst the current panic surrounding the Omicron variant. With parents worrying if schools will close again due to the newly detected strain. Yet for now, the government have confirmed that schools will stay open and that the public should carry on with Christmas as normal.
Is the Pfizer vaccine effective against the Kent variant?
Various other studies have now also confirmed this finding, as this variant - otherwise known as B.1.1.7 - is considered to be the dominant strain of Covid-19 around the world.
However, it's vital that those currently being immunised against the virus take up their two doses. Scientists from Israel's Ministry of Health revealed that two doses of the vaccine was more than 95% effective in preventing hospitalisation, infection and death from the Kent variant. This compared to the results from just a single jab, where the one dose was only effective in preventing infection by 58%, hospitalisation by 76% and death by 77%.
When will the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine be given?
The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine will be given 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose now.
Many people are now able to book their second Covid-19 vaccine dose just 8 weeks after their first, as the government aims to fully vaccinate as much of the population as possible.
Originally, Pfizer suggested that the space between doses should be 21 days. At the beginning of the roll out, the government said they would deliver second doses 12 weeks after the first. This strategy was developed so that in the general population, more people could be vaccinated with the first jab rather than giving a small number of people total immunity.
After the UK's death toll hit a heartbreaking 100,000 deaths in January, the hope was that this method will save more lives.
To find out when you're set to receive the second dose of your Pfizer, Oxford or Moderna vaccine, use the Covid-19 vaccine calculator. It takes into account your age, vulnerability and other factors to produce an earliest and latest possible date for your second jab.
Will there be enough Pfizer vaccine for the second dose?
Former Matt Hancock confirmed that there will be enough Pfizer vaccine available to give everyone their second dose.
A spokesperson for the health secretary told the i paper at the time, "Everyone will receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first."
Officials have urged people who received their first dose to keep an eye open for their invitation to receive their second - but keep an eye out for vaccine scams.
Speaking at a press conference on February 1, Matt Hancock also told the public that other vaccines were on the way. "I also want to let you know some good news on vaccine supply. Today we’ve ordered another 40 million vaccine doses from Valneva.
"As we have all along, we’ve invested early and at risk, before we know for sure if it will come good because from the start, we’ve taken a no regrets attitude to backing vaccines. We’ve tried to leave nothing on the table.
"If this gets regulatory approval, the Valneva vaccine, like many others, will be made right here in the UK.
"The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is made in Oxford, and Staffordshire, and Wrexham. The Novovax vaccine is being manufactured on Teesside. And if approved, this Valneva vaccine will be manufactured in Livingston, in Scotland.
"We didn’t start this pandemic with a large-scale on-shore vaccine manufacturing capability, so we’re building one, all across the United Kingdom. The vaccine programme just goes to show how important it is to have the UK working as one, together."
We now have over 400 million doses of vaccines on order." He said, "This is obviously more than the UK population needs. And my attitude has always been we protect every UK citizen as fast as we can. And at the same time, we’re generous around the world."
How much does a dose of the Pfizer vaccine cost?
All the Covid-19 vaccinations, including the Pfizer vaccine, are completely free to the general public. The NHS is offering the vaccine at no cost to anyone who has been invited to receive it and currently, it's not legally possible to pay for a private Covid-19 vaccination in the UK.
However, the government are paying for everyone to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Per dose, the Pfizer vaccine costs the government $20 (£15). It's much more expensive than the Oxford vaccine at £3 per dose, but cheaper than the Moderna vaccine which comes in at $38 (£28).
It's thought that this is one of the reasons why the roll-out of the Oxford vaccine, which has come from Oxford University and is being produced largely in the UK, has been hailed as such as success.
Is the second vaccine dose the same as the first?
The first and second doses of the vaccine are similar but they work in different ways. The first dose of the Pfizer vaccine will help the immune system crease a response to the virus that causes Covid-19, while the second dose acts as a 'booster' for this protection. The break between the two doses gives the body a chance to create the immune response, before the second jab works to deliver another spike in Covid-19 antibodies.
Both the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines require two doses to make the receiver immune to Covid-19.
Who is a priority for the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK?
Age is the biggest risk factor for Covid 19, so older people such those in care homes and their carers were the first priority for the Pfizer vaccine. All priority groups should now have been offered their first dose of the vaccine and currently, the vaccine is being offered to everyone over the age of 18.
The government recently confirmed that all those eligible for a dose of any Covid-19 vaccine will be offered an appointment by the end of July this year, with second doses coming 8 to 12 weeks after that date.
A prioritisation list published by the government confirms this as "older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers" were first on the list, followed by "all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers". After that the priority list works in this order...
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over
- All those 65 years of age and over
- High-risk adults under 65 years of age
- Moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
- All those 60 years of age and over
- All those 55 years of age and over
- All those 50 years of age and over
- Rest of the population (priority to be determined)
Currently, those under 16 years of age are not eligible to receive any of the Covid-19 vaccines in the UK - except in exceptional circumstances.
Will children be offered the Pfizer vaccine?
For now it looks as though that children under the age of 16 will not receive the vaccine unless they are extremely vulnerable due to other conditions. However, this decision is still currently under review.
This is because children are at risk of catching the virus, but the symptoms of coronavirus in children are famously less severe and damaging than in adults.
What are the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine?
About one in three people report side effects of the vaccine, including: soreness at the site of the injection, fever, aches and chills.
This comes from a recent report by the Zoe app, a team at King's College London. They found that from those who had received the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in early January this year, 51% of people reported one of these side effects but none were serious. The most common one at 37% was pain or swelling near where the jab was given, after both the first and second injections.
None of the side effects reported in the study, which used the experiences of around 40,000 people who were mostly healthcare workers, were serious at all and went away within just a few days.
The side effects are caused by the injection itself or the body's process of building protection against the virus, rather than the virus itself. None of the Covid-19 vaccines use the live virus and none can give people the illness. To combat the virus, the vaccine uses a harmless element of coronavirus to teach the body to recognise and fight Covid-19 if it comes into contact with it.
In fact recent findings from the MHRA, the UK's vaccine regulator, has found that both the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines are "extremely safe". In their study, only 3 in 1,000 people were affected with any side effects at all from the vaccines. These were the same side effects recorded by the King's College report, with mild cases of sore arms, tiredness and flu-like symptoms topping the list.
The Pfizer vaccine and heart inflammation
A new study on the Pfizer vaccine from researchers in Israel has uncovered a smaller number of heart inflammation cases, mainly among young men, which they believe could be associated with the Pfizer Covid vaccine.
Heart inflammation, also known as myocarditis, was reported in their study for 275 out of roughly 5 million people who had received the first vaccine in the last six months. The reported symptoms of this heart inflammation were only mild and mainly affected those under the age of 30, with the condition most frequently seen in those male patients aged between 16 to 19 years old.
Symptoms of myocarditis include:
- Tightness of the chest
- Shortness of breath
- High temperature
- Tiredness and fatigue
Most of those who experienced this particularly rare side effect spent fewer than five days in hospital. 95% of cases were only considered to have mild symptoms, according to the study produced by multiple teams of experts on behalf of Israel's health ministry.
However, Pfizer have said that they have not seen a higher rate of heart inflammation than would normally be expected in the general population. The creators of the vaccine confirmed that they were aware of Israel's study, but that no direct link to its vaccine had been established yet.
The Pfizer vaccine and allergic reactions
At the beginning of the vaccine rollout, two NHS workers had serious allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine. In response, the UK regulator issued a general warning to those with a long-term history of serious allergic reactions against having the jab.
The two staff members suffered from an anaphylactoid reaction with symptoms including a skin rash, breathlessness and a drop in blood pressure. It was very different from a potentially fatal anaphylaxis allergic reaction, so the warning simply serves as a precaution.
The advice only applies to those who have had reactions to medicines, food or vaccines in the past, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has said.
"As is common with new vaccines, the MHRA have advised on a precautionary basis that people with a significant history of allergic reactions do not receive this vaccination after two people with a history of significant allergic reactions responded adversely," Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for the NHS in England, said.
In the days following the news, NHS GP Dr Ellie Cannon told BBC Radio London that allergic reactions and side effects are still not that common. Those administering the vaccine are also more than equipped to deal with any adverse reactions. “We always check before we give people vaccination." Dr Cannon said, "It’s a rare side effect and it’s unfortunate that it’s happened in the last couple of days.”
“Talk to your GP about it or talk to the practice nurse, whoever is doing the vaccination in the hospital. We’re quite used to this because we have this every year with the flu vaccination and with other vaccinations. So we are used to it and we will decide whether or not your level of allergy is enough that you can’t have the vaccination.”
“I would personally advise my patients to go [and have the vaccine] because it’s only patients with the most severe allergies that wouldn’t have it and if you do want to have the vaccination…we do give vaccinations to people with allergies and we do it in a safe hospital environment and we do that every year, so I would go to your appointment if called.”
“This will affect very few people. It doesn’t feel like that now because obviously we’ve had these two cases but from what the MHRA has published, it should only affect very few people.”
Immunology expert, Prof Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London has also said, "The fact that we know so soon about these two allergic reactions and that the regulator has acted on this to issue precautionary advice shows that this monitoring system is working well."
Which countries have approved the Pfizer vaccine?
The UK was the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine for effective and immediate use. This was shortly followed by Bahrain and then the 27 member states of the EU.
The US was going to be one of the first countries set on rolling out the vaccine due to their record-high levels of coronavirus. Although the vaccine was approved for emergency use, the Food and Drug Administration have now fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for those 16-years old or more.
Other countries set to approve the Pfizer vaccine in the coming months are those in Asia and Australia. But officials have confirmed that they won't be rushing into anything. Head of the Australian regulator, Professor John Skeritt told ABC that Australia was on a different timeline to the UK and the US and wouldn't be pressured to approve the vaccine earlier than January 2021.
Speaking to the news site, he said this was because the UK and the US are in a different situation with coronavirus. “They're not approvals that those two countries are talking about, they're emergency use authorisations, and they're really reflecting the desperate situation of those countries,” he said. “We have to remember on many days, day after day the US is having more deaths than we've had in the whole year of the pandemic here in Australia.”
While professor of infectious diseases at the National University of Singapore, Dale Fisher, said that countries who had the virus under control didn't have to issue emergency authorisations. He said they were able to learn lessons from the rest of the world, such as how long immunity lasts with the Pfizer vaccine.
He said, “I wouldn’t say they [the UK, US and Europe] are a test case - they may be used as a test case but that’s not out of design, it’s out of desperation. These countries need a vaccine more urgently,”
“I would never have believed that these countries, among the most developed in the world, would be the ones that are the most needy. But that’s the truth.”
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Grace Walsh is a Features Writer for Goodto.com, covering breaking news health stories during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lifestyle and entertainment topics. She has worked in media since graduating from the University of Warwick in 2019 with a degree in Classical Civilisation and a year spent abroad in Italy. It was here that Grace caught the bug for journalism, after becoming involved in the university’s student newspaper and radio station.
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