How does the Pfizer vaccine work?

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The UK is the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination for coronavirus. The UK has secured 40 million doses of the vaccine, with 10 million expected to arrive by the end of the year. Vaccinations are expected to start next week, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock announcing 800,000 doses of the vaccine are due to arrive in the UK over the coming days.

How does the Pfizer vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is administered into the muscle of the upper arm, like many other vaccines, and consists of two separate doses.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed said people given the vaccine would become immune seven days after the second dose.

However, there would be partial protection 12 days after the first dose.

After the first injection has been administered, the second dose is given 21 days after as a booster.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a type of mRNA vaccine, like many of the other covid vaccines currently in development.

MRNA vaccines differ from the more traditional forms of vaccine, which may use weakened or inactive forms of viruses to cause an immune response.

These vaccines introduce an mRNA sequence into the body, which contains instructions to make a “spike protein”.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the spike protein “is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19”, but mRNA vaccines create a harmless piece of the protein.

Once cells create the protein piece and it is displayed on the surface of the cell, the immune system recognises the protein is not supposed to be there.

The immune system then begins to build an immune response and produce antibodies, which allows the body to fight a potential future infection of COVID-19.

The CDC added: “The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.”

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Another benefit of mRNA vaccines is they are relatively cheap and quick to make compared to other forms of vaccine.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been subject to rigorous safety checks prior to its approval for use in the population.

Dr June Raine, Head of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said the checks carried out on the Pfizer vaccine are “equivalent to all international standards”.

She told a Downing Street briefing: “The public can be absolutely confident that the standards that we have worked to are equivalent to standards around the world.”

Who will get vaccinated first?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said the vaccine should first be distributed to elderly people in care homes and their carers.

Those aged 80 and above are next on the priority list along with frontline health workers, followed by the over 75’s.

Those aged 70 and over and people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable should then receive the vaccine next.

The JCVI recommends people aged 65 and over should follow, then people aged 16 to 64 with health conditions which put them at “higher risk of serious disease and mortality”.

People aged 60 will then get the vaccine, followed by people aged 55 and over, and then the over 50’s.

Presently the under-50’s priority list has not been set out.

The UK has ordered enough Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to vaccinate 20 million people with the two doses needed.

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