'I'll take any Covid vaccine offered,' says chief medic Chris Whitty

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The UK should have three or four vaccines against Covid-19 by the middle of next year, England’s chief medical officer has said, adding that the jabs are being closely monitored for safety.

Professor Chris Whitty said around 20 million people are in the first phase of the NHS vaccination programme, including all those over the age of 50, plus healthcare workers, care home staff and elderly people.

He told the Commons Health and Science Committee he expects to have a “portfolio” of several vaccines by the middle of 2021, but advised that the rollout process should still proceed “carefully”.

He said: “The aim would be to roll out this vaccine and any others that get a licence and are effective and safe.

“We expect, probably by the middle of the year, to have a portfolio of three or four vaccines which we can actually use.”

Chris Whitty has been at the forefront of the nation's efforts to curb the pandemic. Credit: PA

It came as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) gave precautionary advice to NHS trusts that anyone who has a history of “significant” allergic reactions to medicines, food or vaccines should not receive the jab from Pfizer/BioNTech.

Two NHS workers with a history of serious allergy suffered an allergic reaction after receiving the vaccine on Tuesday as the NHS rollout got under way.

Both staff members had a significant history of allergic reactions – to the extent that they carried adrenaline auto-injectors with them.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, 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 yesterday.

“Both are recovering well.”

The NHS said both people developed symptoms of “anaphylactoid reaction” shortly after receiving the vaccine.

Prof Whitty told the Committee: “When it gets to my stage to be vaccinated – and I’m nowhere near the top end of the tiers so it won’t be for a while – I will absolutely have the vaccine when it is appropriate for me to do so.

“I will either have a choice between having no vaccine or the vaccine that is available for me at that stage, and I’ll be very happy with that.

“If the choice is between no vaccine and a good vaccine, I’m going to choose a good vaccine.

“I don’t really have a strong view as to which good vaccine I have, provided it’s safe and effective, which is what the whole (regulatory process) … is there to do.”

Prof Whitty told MPs that he and Dr June Raine, who leads the MHRA, had discussed safety issues “at 11.30 last night”.

He said the NHS and the MHRA are in a “very good position” to pick up “extremely rare” issues with any vaccine once it is in use.

“The initial process, very importantly, picks up common side-effects – that’s what the big phase two and then subsequently, if they are safe, phase three clinical trials allow to happen,” he said.

“But extremely rare but important issues, inevitably you accrue more information over time.

“The NHS through to the MHRA is in a very good position to make sure that we can pick things up quickly, identifying them, communicate them widely, ensure that we improve practice.”

"They are working around the clock to make sure they can enable this to happen"

One care home boss told ITV News the vaccine rollout had been "thrust upon" the sector without any extra funding or support and as a result staff were "really struggling" at what was already a very busy time.

Chairman of the National Care Association Nadra Ahmed said: "There's lots and lots for care providers to do. I don't think that we can be comfortable and say we're completely ready because we've had this thrust upon us in a very short period of time at a time when there are a lot of raised expectations amongst families been able to visit their loved ones."

She said providers were "working around the clock" to juggle the vaccine rollout with other demands, including families wanting to visit their loved one at Christmas.

"We are really struggling and there's obviously no additional resource, whether it's people - staff - or funding to enable us to make it happen."