Pfizer’s jab relies on a live piece of genetic code which must be kept at -70C, making it less convenient and more expensive than Oxford’s traditional vaccine.
The vaccine was approved on December 2. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.
“This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
However, regulatory restrictions mean that at first, the 50 centres can only administer around 300 jabs a day.
Medics have also been told to keep watch on all patients given the Pfizer vaccine for at least 15 minutes under precautionary safety guidance.
Some GPs said it would slow down the delivery of the programme, with others pulling out of the scheme saying their sites did not have enough space for patients to wait around, or enough staff to carry out monitoring.
Health officials said the programme will be expanded, with hundreds of GP centres expected to start delivering batches of the vaccine to care home residents across the UK.
Military personnel have been ordered to transform about 10 sites into vaccine hubs within a fortnight.
Government officials refused to be drawn on how many doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are due to arrive in the UK and on what schedule.
It had been hoped that 10 million doses would be in the country by the end of 2020, but this has now dropped to five million doses.
To date, 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are known to be in the country, which is enough for 400,000 people.
Overall, the UK has ordered 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he hopes several million people can be vaccinated before Christmas.
What’s the latest on Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine?
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine “has a good safety record and efficacy”, meaning that it could help control the pandemic.
Professor Andrew Pollard, who is the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, wrote in The Lancet on December 8 that “this new vaccine has a good safety record and efficacy against the coronavirus”, following the release of the publication of the phase three trials data.
The vaccine has now been submitted to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for approval.
Overall results from phase three of the Oxford AstraZeneca trial, which had over 11,500 volunteers from the UK and Brazil, show the vaccine is 70.4 per cent effective on average. But when administered at a half dose and then a full dose the vaccine can be up to 90 per cent effective.
When delivered in two full doses it produced 62 per cent effectiveness.
Despite the good news, researchers have stated that more detail is needed about how effective the vaccine is in protecting older adults, who are more vulnerable to Covid-19. The research was mostly restricted to people aged 55 and under, with work in older age groups still ongoing.
Study author Dr Merryn Voysey, from the University of Oxford, has noted this in the Lancet and has stated that focus will be placed on these groups to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“In future analyses, with more data included as it becomes available, we will investigate differences in key subgroups such as older adults, various ethnicities, doses, timing of booster vaccines, and we will determine which immune responses equate to protection from infection or disease.”
Dr Andrew Pollard said the team expects to report final results from late-stage trials by Christmas.