Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccine starts rollout

by Stephen Riddle

The NHS is moving to the next phase of its SARS-CoV-2 vaccination programme, following health secretary Steve Barclay’s acceptance of advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to go ahead with rollout of Pfizer’s bivalent 30mg booster shot this week.

The decision follows approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last Saturday, which gave the green light for use of the new vaccine in those aged 12 years and above.

NHS England having indicated that vaccine supply levels are at their “strongest ever”, from Wednesday 7 September the autumn booster campaign will begin being made available to millions of people, including those aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed, and healthcare workers.  Those aged 5 and over on the learning disabilities register will also be eligible, under new Green Book guidance.

Individuals will be invited to book online or by calling 119. A period of three months must have passed since a previous booster.

The news follows the recent recommendation of the human medicines committee (CHMP) of the European Medicine Agency (EMA) to authorise COVID-19 bivalent vaccines from both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

The Pfizer bivalent Original/Omicron vaccine includes mRNA that targets both the original virus strain (15mg) spike protein and mRNA for Omicron BA.1 (15mg) spike protein. According to Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer at Pfizer, the “BA.1-adapted bivalent vaccine was clinically shown to have a favourable safety profile with immunogenicity against both wild type and Omicron strains”.

Data from a clinical trial found side effects to typically be mild and self-resolving and to be no worse than the original booster dose.  No new serious safety concerns were observed.

MHRA chief executive, Dr June Raine explained that bivalent vaccines permit meeting “the challenge of an ever-evolving virus […] and help protect people against COVID-19 variants”.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard stated that the NHS autumn booster campaign aims to “protect the nation ahead of winter, starting with those most vulnerable to serious illness and hospitalisation from COVID and flu”.

GPs began taking the new vaccine to care homes yesterday, incentivised by payments of between £150 (1-10 residents) and £525 (150-250 residents) per completed care home, with a desired deadline of completed care home vaccination by 23 October.

According to a recent study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, COVID-19 vaccines resulted in “a global reduction of 63% in total deaths (19.8 million of 31.4 million)” during the first year of vaccinations.

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