A New Year boost to Covid-19 vaccination programme

Late last year, we wrote about the approval of the first Covid-19 vaccine across the UK (read the article here). Since then, we are pleased to have seen the vaccine being rolled out across the UK nations, with the hope of controlling and stopping the spread of Covid-19.

The first weeks of 2021 have brought new challenges but also fresh hope in the fight against Covid-19. Just 28 days after the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in December 2020, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved a second vaccine, from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, for emergency supply. Today, a third vaccine by manufacturer Moderna, has also been approved by the regulator – with doses expected to arrive in the UK by spring 2021. 

In the past week, the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has begun across Wales and the rest of the UK. The Welsh Government have said that 40,000 doses of the new vaccine will be available within the first two weeks of the rollout. All three currently approved vaccines must be given in two doses to achieve the best possible protection.

Residents and carers in care homes, frontline health and social care workers, and those over the age of 75 will have the highest priority to receive vaccination against Covid-19. You can find more information about the vaccines and what to expect as they continue to be rolled out across Wales at the Public Health Wales website.

As a result of Covid-19, vaccine development is having a moment in the spotlight – but vaccines have been one of the most important advances in modern medical history. Vaccination prevents more serious illness than any other public health tool available. Every year, an estimated 2-3 million lives are saved around the world thanks to immunisation.

Not only have vaccines been responsible for drastically reducing the cases of childhood illnesses such as rubella and measles, they have also been useful in reducing preventing against some cancers.

Vaccination against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent several different types of cancer, most famously cervical cancer. Routine HPV vaccination for girls in school year 8 (aged 12-13) was introduced in 2008, to protect against the development of cervical cancer later in life. In Scotland, this vaccination programme has already been linked with an 89% reduction in cervical disease, with Wales and other UK nations expected to follow a similar pattern.

From 2009, Cancer Research Wales funded a series of studies which provided critical evidence that HPV infection is also responsible for a significant number of head & neck cancer cases in men. This data was used to inform the parliamentary debates that resulted in the 2018 announcement that the vaccination programme would be extended to boys. Modelling from the University of Warwick suggests that by 2058, the HPV vaccine programme including both boys and girls across the UK may have prevented over 100,000 HPV related cancers.

There is no doubt that vaccines have changed our lives, and continue to benefit our economy, society and health. Dr Lee Campbell, Head of Research at Cancer Research Wales said:

“Decades of scientific expertise are deployed in the development of new vaccines, and we already have proof that vaccination saves lives. The approval of a second vaccine for Covid-19 is an important step in overcoming the virus that has had so much negative impact in the past year.

It will be critically important over the coming weeks, for NHS Wales and the Welsh Government to scale up the vaccination programme by an order of magnitude. The additional capacity and momentum will ensure the swift rollout of the approved vaccines across Wales.”