UK Effort to Secure Pfizer Vaccine is Good News but Will Not Give Immediate Protection, Says Expert

© REUTERS / Brendan McDermidTraders gather at the post of Pfizer on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., August 22, 2016
Traders gather at the post of Pfizer on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., August 22, 2016 - Sputnik International
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pleaded with Britons to not “relax their guard” following next week’s first deployment of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccinations. Britain is the first nation to authorise the new Pfizer/BioNTech inoculation and has suffered nine months of lockdowns and over 60,000 coronavirus deaths.

With more on this story, Sputnik spoke with Manal Mohammed, a lecturer in medical microbiology at the University of Westminster.

Sputnik: Following UK efforts to approve the Pfizer vaccine, what can we expect to see over the next few months?

Manal: I think it has been very good news and we should be very optimistic about the future. We hope that we will see a reduction in the infection rates and also, of course, the death rates. I believe the priority, the vaccination priority, will be given to the NHS workers, the people who are in contact with the coronavirus patients, so they will receive the vaccine and we should see some reduction in the infection rate, and the death rate.

Sputnik: Does this mean that citizens can stop wearing masks, socially distancing, following the hardline restrictions tha have been in place for some months now?

Manal: It is a very big mistake to ease up on COVID control measures. Although vaccination means great success in terms of we will be able to control the spread of Coronavirus, it's still very early to leave the control measures. The people who are going to receive the vaccine will have some protection against the disease, so vaccinated people will not get the disease, which means that they will have immunity. If they catch coronavirus, they will not have a severe illness, they will not go to the hospital or the intensive care unit. However, this doesn't mean that they are protected from infection. We don't know yet if the vaccine is going to prevent the transmission of the virus because vaccinated people can still catch the coronavirus. However, they will not show any symptoms, which is good but they can transmit the virus to others, and this is a big problem. Even vaccinated people, they will need to wear their masks, they will need to work from home if they can, and also practice their social distance, in this case, to protect others not to protect themselves until we are sure about the efficacy of the vaccine. In terms of preventing transmission.

Sputnik: The UK has reportedly ordered quite a few units of this vaccine but it is not projected to be enough to cover the full population of the commonwealth. When can we expect to inoculation for the entire population? How long will it take for the NHS to procure vaccines for UK citizens?

Manal: I believe it will take some time, about several months or even a year, until the whole population will be vaccinated. We are not very sure if we will need really to vaccinate the whole population. So, priority will be given to vulnerable people then we will monitor the infection rate and the transmission of the virus, we might achieve herd immunity, and there will [be] no need to vaccinate everyone. But we have to keep an eye on the efficacy of the vaccine, especially in terms of decreasing the transmission of the virus. There are some issues you know about the children... are we going to vaccinate the children? Children are not showing any main symptoms for COVID and they are not very susceptible to the virus. However, they can get the virus and be asymptomatic carriers, and they can play a role in the transmission. That's why we need to really wait and see if the efficacy of the vaccine. Because under clinical trials, the vaccine shows 90% efficacy, but we don't know under the real-world conditions [if the] figure [is] going to be the same, or might become lower. About the safety of the vaccine as well, under clinical trials, there were no serious safety issues, but again, we need to monitor the vaccine safety. The person given the vaccine doesn't mean he is fully protected just after getting the vaccine. The vaccine will not provide immediate protection from coronavirus. Your immune system needs to recognise the antigen within the vaccine. Mainly the immune cells need to produce specific antibodies against the coronavirus and this will take two weeks until some specific antibodies are produced to protect you if you catch coronavirus. Because the vaccine requires two doses between them, it's about three to four weeks in some vaccines, so the full protection will not be achieved until six weeks in reality.

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