Oxford Covid vaccine is APPROVED for use with rollout expected to begin on January 4 as millions more face Tier 4 with Matt Hancock set to reveal TODAY where tougher restrictions are needed

  • UK has ordered 100 million doses – enough to vaccinate 50million people – with first jabs starting on Monday
  • Boris Johnson expected to announce which regions will be moved to Tier 4 later today due to increasing rates
  • Department of Health figures reveal Tuesday’s infection toll, 53,135, is the largest yet recorded in Britain
  • It marks a 44 per cent rise on last Tuesday, when 36,804 coronavirus cases were announced by officials
  • Two thirds of England could be plunged into Tier 4 this week when tiers are reviewed, it has been claimed 

The chief executive of AstraZeneca has promised the firm will be able to deliver 2million weekly doses of the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine which has been hailed as Britain’s way out of the pandemic.

In a massive boost after the country racked up a record 50,000 daily cases yesterday, the critical Oxford/AstraZeneca jab sealed approval from the UK medical regulator this morning, with injections due to start on Monday.

The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.

Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu and Zika.

The virus is genetically modified so that it is impossible for it to reproduce  in humans and cause infection.

Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus’s specific ‘spike protein’ – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.

When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to force the body’s own cells to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus.

This induces an immune response because it makes those cells look like the virus, which effectively works as a training aid for the immune system to learn how to fight the virus if the real thing gets into the body.

In clinical trials Oxford’s vaccine was 62 per cent effective at preventing a coronavirus diagnosis if given as two doses, and 90 per cent when one half dose was given followed by a further full dose.

The difference, experts say, may be because a smaller dose the first time allows the body to create a better picture of what the virus will look like before it attempts to launch a full-scale attack, as with a full dose, giving quality first and then quantity later.

Mr Hancock said today’s decision meant Britain can ‘accelerate the vaccine rollout’ and ‘brings forward the day when we can get our lives back to normal’, adding: ‘We will be able to get out of this by the Spring.’

He told Sky News: ‘It is going to be a difficult few weeks ahead. We can see the pressures right now on the NHS and it is absolutely critical that people follow the rules and do everything they can to stop the spread, particularly of the new variant of this virus that transmits so much faster.

‘But we also know that there is a route out of this. The vaccine provides that route out. We have all just got to hold our nerve over the weeks to come.’ 

Asked if he could provide a timeline for when under-50s without pre-existing conditions may be vaccinated, Mr Hancock told Times Radio: ‘It depends on the speed of manufacture, I wish I could give you a date, your invitation right now, but we can’t because it depends on the speed of the manufacture.

This product, it’s not a chemical compound it’s a biological product so it’s challenging to make, so that is the rate-limiting factor in terms of the rollout.

‘Now that we have two vaccines being delivered we can accelerate, how fast we can accelerate will be determined by how fast the manufacturers can produce.

‘But what I can tell you is that I now have a very high degree of confidence that by the spring enough of those who are vulnerable will be protected to allow us to get out of this pandemic situation.

‘We can see the route out and the route out is guided by this vaccine and that’s why this is such good news for everyone.’

Former PM Mr Blair welcomed that the government seemed to be following his blueprint of using the available stocks to give a single dose to as many people as possible.  

‘The trial results make the case for using all available vaccines to vaccinate people with the first dose, without holding back a second dose for each person, overwhelming,’ he said. 

‘The first dose gives a high level of immunity – enough to halt hospital admissions – and the second dose is in any event at its most effective 2/3 months after the first, by which time we will have extra supplies of the vaccine to cover second doses.

In addition, the Government should consider urgently: acceleration of the vaccination programme. Of course, 1m vaccinations a week is remarkable by normal standards. 

‘But given the rates of transmission and the costs of lockdown, we need to do much more. Given the advantages of the AstraZeneca vaccine in terms of simplicity to administer – like the flu jab – we should surely be using every available potential resource including all pharmacies, occupational health capacity and those suitable to be trained fast to administer vaccines and increase the rate of vaccination.

‘And we should think about greater flexibility in the plan, with vaccination of groups most likely to transmit the virus and hotspot areas as well as age and vulnerability.’

Mr Hancock will announce the changes to Tiers in the Commons later with insiders questioning whether the vaccine news has been released as a precursor for stricter lockdown restrictions.

Yesterday’s infection tally of 51,135 is the highest toll officially recorded by the Department of Health in a single 24-hour period and it marks a sharp 44 per cent rise on last Tuesday’s figure of 36,804. 

The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, which has been described as a ‘game changer’, was given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.

‘This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.’  

AstraZeneca said it aimed to supply millions of doses in the first quarter of next year as part of an agreement with the Government to supply up to 100 million doses.

Its chief executive Pascal Soriot said: ‘Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.’

In a statement, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This is a moment to celebrate British innovation – not only are we responsible for discovering the first treatment to reduce mortality for Covid-19, this vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease.

‘It is a tribute to the incredible UK scientists at Oxford University and AstraZeneca whose breakthrough will help to save lives around the world. I want to thank every single person who has been part of this British success story. While it is a time to be hopeful, it is so vital everyone continues to play their part to drive down infections.’

And Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford trial, said: ‘The regulator’s assessment that this is a safe and effective vaccine is a landmark moment, and an endorsement of the huge effort from a devoted international team of researchers and our dedicated trial participants.

‘Though this is just the beginning, we will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere, as many as possible as soon possible.’

Data published in The Lancet medical journal in early December showed the vaccine was 62% effective in preventing Covid-19 among a group of 4,440 people given two standard doses of the vaccine when compared with 4,455 people given a placebo drug.

Of 1,367 people given a half first dose of the vaccine followed by a full second dose, there was 90% protection against Covid-19 when compared with a control group of 1,374 people.

The overall Lancet data, which was peer-reviewed, set out full results from clinical trials of more than 20,000 people.

Among the people given the placebo drug, 10 were admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including two with severe Covid which resulted in one death. But among those receiving the vaccine, there were no hospital admissions or severe cases.

The half dose followed by a full dose regime came about as a result of an accidental dosing error.

However, the MHRA was made aware of what happened and clinical trials for the vaccine were allowed to continue.