Covid vaccine: What happens next and how do you roll out a vaccine?

Video report by Science Editor Tom Clarke

Words by ITV News Content Producer Amani Hughes

In the world of Covid vaccines, there are three big contenders which have proved to be highly effective and at the forefront of the race.

The Pfizer/BioNTech candidate is 95% effective and has passed its safety checks in the UK - now being approved for use by the MHRA.

Interim trial results for Moderna's jab have suggested it may be 94.5% effective against Covid-19 and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be up to 90% effective.

The idea that we could be administering a vaccine by the end of the year is an exciting one for the science industry and indeed the world, but what is the next stage in the vaccine process and how close are we from approving more jabs?

What happens next?

Before the vaccines are rolled out nationally, they need to go before the regulatory body - the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The MHRA has confirmed their review into the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shows it meets the required standards.

It is highly likely the agency will soon receive data from the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, after initial trials concluded the vaccine can prevent up to 90% of people contracting coronavirus and getting seriously ill.

The regulatory body will look through all the phase trials of the vaccine, any side effects, how common they were, who experienced them, whether they were recurrent, complications, who should not have the vaccine and how effective the vaccine is.

Gordon Duff, former chairman of the MHRA, told ITV News: “What will be judged is that the benefits far outweigh any risks to any recipient of the vaccine and even if those risks are theoretical, that has to be taken into account.”

How long will this process take?

It usually take years for the MHRA to approve vaccines, but the whole process, including development of jabs, has been accelerated because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Prof Duff predicted it could take a matter of weeks before the Oxford vaccine is approved and in a best case scenario people can start to be vaccinated before Christmas.

The body has received rolling data from the vaccine trials as they happen, which they assess as they go along, instead of receiving all the data at the end of development.

The MHRA will prioritise reviews into the coronavirus vaccines – they will jump the queue as it were.

Prof Duff explains: “The regulator and the developer of the vaccine are moving in step and have been doing so all year, so the final part is basically an overall look at the whole dossier, but a focus on the trial happening now, that has to be formally evaluated.”

The speed in which these vaccines have been developed have in no way compromised their effectiveness or safety, Dr Joshua Blight, an expert in vaccinology at Imperial College London and co-founder of baseimmune vaccines, told ITV News.

“How you find out if a vaccine is safe is test it thoroughly and they have been tested thoroughly, if I had the MMR vaccine that has gone through the exact same safety trials as Covid vaccines, I have no concerns over the safety of these vaccines,” Dr Blight assured.

The speed in which the vaccines have been developed have in no way compromised their effectiveness, says Dr Blight. Credit: Dr Joshua Blight/Imperial College London

How do you roll out a vaccine nationally?

Public Health England will oversee the rolling out of the vaccine in England and it is expected the vaccines being developed will require two doses, around three to four weeks apart.

GP surgeries will be able to opt-in to the vaccination service and NHS trusts will be commissioned to provide the programme possibly through regional vaccination centres in a similar way to the testing centres, the BMA has outlined.

It has been suggested mass vaccination centres could be set up in large venues such as conference halls and schools.

High priority groups, including older residents in care homes and care home workers, will be vaccinated first, with the over 80s and health and social care workers next in line.

Local pharmacies will be used where GP coverage is not enough.

Who will administer the vaccine?

A registered healthcare professional will need to carry out the clinical assessment and consent.

But a trained non-registered member of staff will be able to administer the vaccine itself under clinical supervision.

New laws brought in by the government allow more healthcare workers to administer the Covid vaccine, such as independent nurses, allied healthcare professionals, paramedics, physiotherapists, pharmacists and student nurses and doctors.

St John Ambulance has been recruited to support NHS staff in delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme across England.

The charity aims to train more than 30,000 volunteers between now and spring 2021, to take on a range of roles, including delivering the vaccines, supporting roles and helping people who need one-to-one support in the process.

Credit: PA

Has a vaccine been developed this quickly before?

The nearest comparison is during the 2009/2010 swine flu pandemic when a vaccine was put together and approved very rapidly, Prof Duff explains.

“But it was an entirely different scientific challenge, this was influenza, and we already had flu vaccines, we were making them every year for seasonal flu, we had the vehicles for the vaccine and we just had to drop into those the sequences from the current strain of flu. We weren’t starting from such a low knowledge base as we are now,” Prof Duff said.

“If they are approved by the regulator, it goes to show how well we can all do, when we work together, when academic, private sector and industry have a common goal and coordinated approach, it’s a very uplifting story.”