‘We are standing by’ - region gears up for coronavirus vaccine effort
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Health officials and councils are gearing up for the nationwide effort which could see a coronavirus vaccine rolled out to the public.
Preparations are under way as Norfolk gets set to play its part in the vaccination programme, which may start at the beginning of December.
It comes after pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and BioNTech, announced they had developed a jab offering 90% protection from contracting Covid-19.
They are set to apply for emergency approval of the vaccine, while the government has already ordered 30 million doses.
But England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said on Wednesday “we will not use anything” until approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
And Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk, has urged caution, adding: “We don’t think there will be a vaccine in substantial numbers before Christmas.
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“It’s important to emphasise we have not seen the safety data or what side effects it causes. Clearly, there is lots more data still to be gathered.”
While the operation is expected to be led by health teams and the military, John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said local authorities will be on hand to help.
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“The NHS and army are coordinating a complex operation, and ultimately they will oversee things,” added Mr Fuller.
“We are standing by to assist with any arrangements that need to be made, and will be here to provide a helping hand.”
One of the biggest logistical challenges will be storing the vaccine at a safe temperature, as it must be transported to vaccination venues in liquid nitrogen at minus 80C.
Finding suitable locations at which jabs can be administered - in addition to care homes and GP surgeries - is another key consideration.
“Liquid nitrogen is dangerous and clearly council workers are not in a position to assist with handling it,” added Mr Fuller.
“We need to recognise that many of our venues have not been used for months and are not Covid-secure. At this time of year there will be inclement weather, but people will still need to be socially distanced.”
Stuart Dark, West Norfolk Council’s portfolio holder for emergency planning, said the council would help support the vaccination programme, including allowing buildings to be used if requested.