Pfizer vaccine: Which country developed it, how effective is it and who would be on the priority list?

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  • On December 8, less than a month after the government approved the Pfizer vaccine, the first person in the UK received their first dose.

    The Pfizer vaccine was the first one to roll out in the UK. It was shortly followed by the Oxford vaccine and has contributed to the widespread success of the UK’s vaccination programme.

    The government have said since the beginning of the pandemic that when Covid vaccinations are available to everyone, we’ll shortly be on our way out lockdowns. Hopefully, this will mean a return to a more normal way of living as well. Thanks to the vaccination plan, it’s now also possible to find out when you will get the Covid vaccine, after the government has pledged to have everyone in the top four priority groups vaccinated by the middle of February.

    Over 17.5 million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine, with the Pfizer jab heading up the programme after the UK became the first country in the world to approve it for widespread use.


    While the MHRA regulatory body confirmed the vaccine was safe for use, there is more information coming out about the vaccine every week. This includes updated safety information for people who were previously advised not to have the vaccine. Most recently, for example, the rules changed on the Covid-19 vaccine and pregnancy.

    So where did the vaccine come from? Is it actually effective in preventing people from catching coronavirus? And importantly, who would receive the vaccine first? These are all questions that people are asking following the news, as unlike the vaccines produced by Oxford University (where volunteers have taken part in trials), this one was vaguely unheard of in the UK before it rolled out. 

    Who made the Pfizer vaccine and in which country?

    The Pfizer vaccine has been developed by an American corporation called Pfizer in New York and BioNTech, a German biotechnology company based in Mainz, Germany. 

    Pfizer is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and over the years has been responsible for many of the essential medicines used by millions of people around the world. 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?

    At the moment, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how long immunity from the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine would last. As they only started to administer the second dosages four months ago, it’s thought that we’ll have this information in the coming months. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has already said that a vaccine with an immunity of just six months would be acceptable at the moment, especially as other vaccines are also being created.

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    In the worst case scenario, people will need boosters of the vaccine every year much like the flu vaccine but in the best case scenario, as suggested by chief executive of BioNTech, Uğur Şahin, immunity with the Pfizer vaccine would last months or years.

    How effective is the Pfizer vaccine?

    The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has been reported as 95% effective in the latest phase three trials, meaning that it prevented more than 9 out of 10 people from contracting the virus. This included efficiency across all age, gender, race and different ethnicity demographics, with adults over the age of 65 protected by over 94%.  

    The trial involved three phases and 43,538 people from six different countries. Each received two doses of either the vaccine or the placebo, with 90% of people protected from the virus within less than a month of having their jabs. 

    Out of more than 40,000 people who took part in the study, only 94 contracted coronavirus and as no serious safety concerns were reported, the vaccine is expected to be fast-tracked to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use. 

    However, a study and substantial reports won’t be confirmed until 164 people have contracted the virus to get a better understanding of how the vaccine works. 

    Dr Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive, has said in a statement that the success of the vaccine is immensely promising for both science and humanity: “The first set of results from our phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19.” 

    “We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development programme at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”

    Other scientists such as John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, who is also involved with the Oxford coronavirus vaccine told the BBC that the Pfizer scientists had shown “an amazing level of efficacy” and he was hopeful that normality could return by spring. 

    “I’m the first guy to say that,” He said, “But I will say it with some confidence.”

    As coronavirus is worse than the flu, the hope is that a vaccine will prevent the double threat of flu and Covid-19 in the years to come.

    Is the Pfizer vaccine effective against the new variant?

    Various studies have now confirmed that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is effect against the variants of Covid-19 found both in the UK and in South Africa.

    international arrivals gate at Heathrow airport

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    A laboratory study conducted by BioNTech confirmed the idea that the vaccine would help to protect people against the new variants. The results found that the variants only made a minor impact on the effectiveness of the antibodies created by the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, however it’s a preliminary study and hasn’t been peer reviewed yet.

    While they largely protected against the UK without question, it was also discovered the antibodies were slightly less effective against the mutation of the virus discovered first in South Africa. These findings are consistent with other results, however, which have been reported in recent weeks by other research groups looking into the effectiveness of all the available vaccines against the new variants.

    It’s not currently know whether other new strains of coronavirus, such as the one first located in Brazil, will also be beaten by this vaccine.

    But for the moment, it’s promising news that the vaccine will be effective against the new Covid-19 variants. It’s also been confirmed by UK experts that if they’re not, they can easily be adapted to combat the new variants and create effective antibodies.

    How much protection you do get from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine?

    A new study has revealed that the Pfizer vaccine is 85% effective after just one dose.

    Woman getting ready to administer Pfizer vaccine

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    The findings came as the Sheba Medical Centre, Israel’s largest hospital, assessed the effectiveness of the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine among 7000 of their healthcare employees. The results, published in the Lancet, showed that there was a 85% reduction of symptomatic Covid-19 between 15 and 28 days after the initial injection. There was also a 75% reduction in asymtomatic infections after the first dose, making promising conclusions about how effective the vaccine was with two doses.

    Following the second dose, the effectiveness rises to 90.5% after 2 to 7 days.

    It’s for this reason that the government was able to announce their roadmap out of lockdown, with June 21 given as the date by which they hope to end all restrictions.

    When will the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine be given?

    The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine will be given 12 weeks after the first dose now, instead of the Pfizer-recommended 21 days. It’s part of the government’s vaccine roll-out plan, as they’ve decided that giving the first dose of the vaccine to as many people as possible, before then going round again and delivering the second dose, is a better idea.

    The 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 is that this method will save more lives. It’s also thought that supply and delivery problems with the vaccine would be a reason for the delay, although this has not been confirmed by the government.

    Some medical experts, including those at the British Medical Journal, have disputed this idea. They argue that immunity from the antibodies is likely to fall if the doses are delayed and have called for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to review the evidence. While other experts, including Chief Medical Officer and epidemiologist Professor Chris Witty, have argued that this is the best plan for the moment.

    Will there be enough Pfizer vaccine for the second dose?

    Matt Hancock has 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, “Everyone will receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first.”

    Matt Hancock delivering update on Pfizer vaccine rollout

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    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 have been the first priority for the Pfizer vaccine. Now, everyone in the top four priority age groups has been offered their first vaccine. 

    older woman smiling

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    A prioritisation list published by the government confirms this as “older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers” are 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)

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the government’s readiness to give people the vaccine as he told BBC Breakfast, “The NHS is ready, we’re prepared, I’ve put in the extra £150m today, the GPs and ready, we’re working with the pharmacists, the hospitals are going to play a very important role,” 

    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. 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. 

    It will be delivered to all those more vulnerable due to age and other factors first. 

    Are there any side effects of the vaccine?

    About one in three people report side effects of the vaccine, including: soreness at the site of the injection, fever, aches and chills.

    Mother looking at laptop with child on her lap

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    This comes from a recent report by the Zoe app, a team at King’s College London. They found that from people who had received the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in early January, 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 got better within just a few days.

    The side effects were caused by the injection itself or the body’s response to vaccine, rather than the virus itself. None of the Covid-19 vaccines use the 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 came 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 allergic reactions

    After two NHS workers had serious allergic reactions to the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, the UK regulator has issued a general warning to those with a long-term history of allergies against having the jab.

    The two staff members are thought to have suffered from an anaphylactoid reaction with symptoms including a skin rash, breathlessness and a drop in blood pressure. It’s very different from the potentially fatal anaphylaxis allergic reaction so the warning simply serves as a precaution.

    The advice 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.

    But NHS GP Dr Ellie Cannon told BBC Radio London that side effects aren’t all that common, despite what we’re hearing at the moment, and those administering the vaccine are more than equipped to deal with any allergic 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.”

    What is the population of England and how many Pfizer Covid vaccines has the government bought?

    As of 2018, there were 55.98 million people living in England alone and the government has currently bought 40 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer, but because each person needs two doses of the jab for full vaccination, we currently have enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

    Woman receiving Pfizer vaccine in Cornwall

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    This might only be just under a third of the population but it’s a start. The Pfizer vaccine is also just one of the several currently in production, including the Oxford University with AstraZeneca plc vaccine, which was proven to be highly effective in protecting people against Covid-19 in the final phase three of the trial back in November.

    If it’s deemed safe and effective by the regulatory body, then the Oxford vaccine will join the 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the 2million secured doses of the Moderna jab in creating a vaccination programme for the UK.

    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. But they have had to wait longer for their approval as the Food and Drug Administration is still waiting on some data.

    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.”