Understanding COVID-19 vaccines

This time last year, most of us had never heard of coronavirus. Fast-forward to now, and the virus has become a part of our daily lives in one way or another. Since the first lockdown was imposed in March, we’ve all been clinging on to the hope of good news and progress that will help us return to ‘normality’.

This week we got some.

On Tuesday (8th Dec), the UK became the first country in the world to administer a vaccine against COVID-19. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson marked it as “the start of the fightback against our common enemy, the coronavirus”.

However, despite the positive progress, we’ve all been warned that there is ‘still a long march ahead’ as we work towards beating the “enemy” once and for all.

So, what does this all mean? Will the vaccine help us return back to ‘normal’? What happens in the meantime?

What are the current restrictions in the UK?

On the 2nd of December, a new tier system came into place. The tier system consists of three levels, detailing what you can and cannot do in your tier. The tier you’re in is dependent on where you live and is based on the local infection rate.

How long will the current restrictions last for?

We don’t know how long the current restrictions will be in place for, but we have been told that restrictions will be reviewed on a regular basis. Boris Johnson has set “March as a realistic end date”.

Who will be receiving the vaccine first?

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has confirmed its priority list for the first phase of the UK’s mass vaccine rollout as:

1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
3. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
4. All those 65 years of age and over
5. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at high risk of serious disease and mortality
6. All those 60 years of age and over
7. All those 55 years of age and over
8. All those 50 years of age and over

JCVI estimates that taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19.

How many vaccines have the UK secured?

To date, the government have secured access to over 355 million doses of seven of the most “promising vaccine candidates”, including:

1. BioNTech/Pfizer for 40 million doses
2. Oxford/AstraZeneca for 100 million doses
3. Moderna for 5 million doses
4. GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses
5. Novavax for 60 million doses
6. Janssen for 30 million doses
7. Valneva for 60 million doses

Currently, only the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use and the other vaccinations are still under trial.

How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Initial data shows the vaccine is 94% effective in protecting people over 65 years old from coronavirus and clinical trials have not reported any serious safety concerns.

As it is a new vaccine, we do not yet know how long it will be effective for.

Is the vaccine mandatory?

Currently the vaccine is not mandatory.

How long will it take to vaccinate the whole country?

At the moment, this is something that we do not know. Mass vaccination will take time.

But we do know that this is the “biggest and most highly anticipated immunisation campaign in history” within the NHS.

Will the vaccines put an end to coronavirus?

None of us can predict what will happen in the future, but vaccinations should help us move closer to the end of the pandemic. By vaccinating the most vulnerable, we should see a minimisation in hospital admissions and mortality, which should help return to life with less restriction.

But we have a long way to go. Social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing will still be recommended to keep transmission in the community low. And testing will remain key. A vital part in understanding the effectiveness of the vaccinations is testing antibodies so we know how long the vaccination protects an individual for.

So, what happens in the meantime?

Although this is positive news, for the majority of us, we are still living under restrictions stopping us from doing some of the things we love and most importantly, from seeing the people we love. It’s been a hard year for us all, and the light at the end of the tunnel can seem out of sight at times.

However, since the pandemic started, we are closer than we have ever been to beating the virus and returning back to normal. It’s important we continue to take precautions, not only to protect ourselves, but to protect those around us, especially the vulnerable.

At Testing For All, we are committed to contributing to getting our communities back on track, which is why we are proud to offer affordable testing. Find out more about our tests here.