Coronavirus Q&A: Your Pfizer vaccine questions answered

Sarah Knapton
·15-min read
Dose of the COVID-19 vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer is pictured in this undated handout photo
Dose of the COVID-19 vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer is pictured in this undated handout photo

On Wednesday morning, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the Pfizer Covid vaccine for use in the UK, with the roll-out of the vaccine expected to get underway in the second week of December

Read more: UK approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, who will get it first?

In a press conference on December 2, the Prime Minister spoke of a “searchlight of science” to “pick out our invisible enemy” and “now the scientists have done it”. However, Mr Johnson shared that we still had “some months before all the most vulnerable are protected” and so, we must remain cautious, and not be “carried away with over optimism”. 

He added that the Government’s plan relies on the publics continued sacrifice “for those we love”.

The Prime Minister ended his speech with a hopeful promise for the future, saying: 

"We're no longer resting on the mere hope that we will return to normal next year, in the spring, but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed and together reclaim our lives and all the things about our lives that we love."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the news means "by spring we will be through this," adding that that the roll-out will begin “early next week”.

Mr Hancock also announced that the approval brought a "day to remember in a year to forget" and described the jab as a "victory for science”. However, he then went on to emphasise the need to follow the current rules and restrictions from the new tier system, which began on December 2.

The Telegraph understands the Armed Forces and NHS have begun urgent preparations for the distribution of the vaccine for the first weekend of December. 

Prior to Pfizer vaccine's approval, the Telegraph's Science Editor, Sarah Knapton, answered your questions on when you could be offered the vaccine, how the Government plans to roll it out and much more. 

You can find a recap of the Q&A below and the full Q&A at the bottom of this page.

Do you have a question about the Pfizer vaccine? Leave it in the comments section below and join the Telegraph's Global Health Security Correspondent, Anne Gulland, at 11am (GMT) for the answers.

If you've already had Covid will you need a vaccine?

It’s a good point and one that hasn’t been addressed by the government yet. It does seem a bit of a waste to vaccinate people who will already have protective t-cells and antibodies. However we know these wane over time, so a booster jab might be advisable, particularly in people who had the virus near the start of the pandemic. There may also be some mutation over time, which the vaccine will account for.

Will the vaccine be compulsory?

No, the government has said it will not be making the vaccination mandatory so you do not have to have it if you don’t want to.

How will the vaccine be distributed globally given it needs to be kept at minus 70C?

It’s definitely a major hurdle and one I suspect will hugely impact how fast we can roll out the Pfizer jab. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government abandons the Pfizer vaccine fairly quickly if the Oxford version becomes available. It’s way cheaper and easier to distribute. I suspect that’s why Pfizer announced their results early, as they know nobody would buy their version if others get there first.

Mr Johnson highlighted the extent of this problem, along with the Welsh government, who told MPs there were “logistical challenges” with implementing it widely. 

Furthermore, at a conference on December 2, the Prime Minister expanded on how the jab would be implemented across care homes particularly. He shared: “Of course we want to get it into care homes as fast as we possibly can”. Though they are waiting to hear more, they are adamant that they will get it to “the most vulnerable”. 

Responding to criticism that the temperature of the vaccine would make it hard to be issued around care homes, Professor Van-Tam then argued that it was “extremely unfair when one considers a new virus emerged less than 12 months ago and we now have our first vaccine”. 

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer continued: “This is a complex product. It is not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in several times.”

Imperial College is working on a way to make MRNA vaccines more stable though, which means they could be transported at normal vaccination temperatures, so watch this space. 

Will only doctors and nurses be allowed to give jabs? 

Ministers have said they plan to train students, vets, dentists and physiotherapists among others. We wrote about it earlier in the year.

How does this vaccine differ from the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine is made from messenger RNA, a type of genetic code which instructs cells to produce the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein sits on the outside of coroanvirus cells and grabs on to human cells to infect them. Once the body starts producing the spike proteins the immune system will start developing t-cells and antibodies to defence against it.   

In contrast Oxford is using an inactivated common cold virus into which they have inserted the spike protein. It is the traditional way of producing vaccines and is much cheaper and easier to distribute.  

Read more about the Oxford vaccine versus the Pfizer vaccine

Will the vaccine also prevent transmission? 

At the moment all we know is that the vaccine prevents people from getting the disease. We don’t know if it reduces symptoms or if it will prevent transmission. That will determine whether it is rolled out widely, or just given to vulnerable people. More results are expected in the next few weeks.

Will the Covid vaccine be offered along with the flu vaccine? 

The UK Vaccines Taskforce is looking into combining the flu jab and the coronavirus jab but this is unlikely to happen this winter. It may form part of an annual vaccination programme but it depends on what happens to the virus. It may just vanish in the same way as Sars. 

Do we need 80 per cent of people to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity?

@Thomas Lowe asks:

"So, herd immunity was supposed to require 60 per cent, but with all of the residual immunity from all of the people who have had it, and the, probably, millions who were asymptomatic, and won't get it again, we need 80 per cent of the herd to actually take a vaccine?

Sarah: It is unclear whether the vaccine will be used to build up herd immunity. It may be used like the flu vaccine to protect the vulnerable. Much will depend on whether results show that it can prevent transmission. If it can’t then it probably won’t be worth giving it to younger and healthier people. Scientists are divided on how much of the population would need to be vaccinated for herd immunity. The Royal Society thinks around 80 per cent, but some studies have put it at less than 60 per cent.

Will children be vaccinated? 

A question now on whether children will receive the vaccination. 

@Pantodon Buchholzi asks:

"I am very much pro-vaccination in general and if I was at risk I’d also want the jab. However, I am worried about any potential side effects which may not surface until after a few years have passed. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people who are largely unaffected by the disease (mainly children) to get injected with a vaccine that has not been through the standard verification process." 

Sarah: The head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce has previously said she doesn’t expect children will be vaccinated. There have been no trials in children so the current vaccines could not be used for children. The government will need to weigh up whether the potential harms from a vaccine outweigh the benefits, and I think they will decide it’s not worth vaccinating children. 

Are safety protocols being bypassed? 

@charlie racer asks:

"The vaccine trials are still on going and probably will be for another one or two years, are protocols being bypassed? "

Sarah: All usual safety protocols are being adhered to. Usually vaccines take a long time because of regulatory hold ups and recruitment problems. Covid is so rife at the moment that recruitment isn’t a problem and regulators have pushed everything else to the side to concentrate on Covid. I do think there is an issue about long-term side effects, but the good thing about mass vaccination on the NHS means we can monitor people for symptoms so that will pick up any problems early.

Will the Covid vaccine be offered along with the flu vaccine? 

@Paul Bagguley asks:

Will a Covid vaccine likely form part of the annual triple/quad fly vaccine and are the government planning on providing more flu jabs next year?

Hi Paul, the UK Vaccines Taskforce is looking into combining the flu jab and the coronavirus jab but this is unlikely to happen this winter. It may form part of an annual vaccination programme but it depends on what happens to the virus. It may just vanish in the same way as Sars. 

How does this vaccine differ from the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

We've had quite a few questions from our Telegraph Community Facebook Group

Here are the questions: 

What exactly is this vaccine claiming it can do?

Sarah: At the moment Pfizer says the vaccine protects against developing Covid-19 and is more than 90 per cent effective, meaning it would be protective for more than nine in 10 people.      

How will they get it from minus 70C to room temperature so it can be injected when apparently it's shelf life at that temperature is very short?

Sarah: The logistics are currently being worked out, but it will probably require mobile freezers or liquid nitrogen. The Army is being brought in to help with distribution.  

What safety measures have been taken into account seeing as how the numbers they have tested this on are tiny (31?) and the stage 3 trials are not due to take place until 2021/22?

Sarah: The Pfizer trial is a phase 3 trial and has been carried out on 40,000 people, of whom half were given the vaccine. So the numbers are quite large.    

How does this differ from the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

Sarah: The Pfizer vaccine is made from messenger RNA, a type of genetic code which instructs cells to produce the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein sits on the outside of coroanvirus cells and grabs on to human cells to infect them. Once the body starts producing the spike proteins the immune system will start developing t-cells and antibodies to defence against it.   

In contrast Oxford is using an inactivated common cold virus into which they have inserted the spike protein. It is the traditional way of producing vaccines and is much cheaper and easier to distribute.  

Read more about the Oxford vaccine versus the Pfizer vaccine

What protection against Covid-19 is this vaccine offering?  Will it reduce the symptoms or will it prevent the virus from infecting the vaccinated patient?

Sarah: At the moment all we know is that the vaccine prevents people from getting the disease. We don’t know if it reduces symptoms or if it will prevent transmission. That will determine whether it is rolled out widely, or just given to vulnerable people. More results are expected in the next few weeks.

What protection does the vaccine give against Covid-19?

@Wadia Hiddon says:

"What protection against Covid-19 is this vaccine offering? Will it reduce the symptoms or will it prevent the virus from infecting the vaccinated patient?"

Sarah: Hi Wadia. At the moment all we know is that the vaccine prevents people from getting the disease. We don’t know if it reduces symptoms or if it will prevent transmission. That will determine whether it is rolled out widely, or just given to vulnerable people. More results are expected in the next few weeks.

Has the vaccine been tested on people of different ethnicities and those with underlying health conditions?

@John Naylor asks:  

"How long have the studies been running to evidence no ill effects in all ethnicities, age groups, underlying medical conditions, I for one would wish for more assurance than what's on offer." 

Sarah: The trials have included participants from a wide range of age groups and ethnicities. I think it has to be seen in cost-benefit terms. People may think the risk of suffering some kind of long term side-effect is worth the risk of avoiding death. It will be up to individuals to determine that based on their own risk once we see the published data.

Is the vaccine data published for the public to access? 

@Jack asks:

"Ten per cent of participants in the Pfizer trial didn’t get a second injection. Why was that? Is that why it’s 90 per cent effective or is it 90 per cent effective on those that had two injections and how did they expose those on trial to Covid to prove its effectiveness.? Is all the data published for the public to access?" 

Sarah: Pfizer hasn’t published its results yet so it’s unclear why a proportion of people did not go on to get the second jab. There can be a certain level of  drop outs in trials or it may be a availability/distribution issue. Or it could have been side-effects. We will know more in a few weeks when full results are in.

Shouldn't the vaccine be given to the young and healthy first?

@Frances Hickey asks: 

"Shouldn't the vaccine be given to the young and healthy first? Then there's more chance of people getting back to work and the hospitality sector opening up again." 

Sarah: The young and healthy very rarely get seriously ill from Covid so it makes little sense to vaccinate them first. By targeting the most vulnerable  that will allow the young and healthy to get back to work more quickly. I suspect life will largely go back to normal for most people once those most at risk have been vaccinated. They may not even need a jab at all.

Will vulnerable adults not on the shielding list be vaccinated? 

Michele asks: 

"Will vulnerable adults with underlying health conditions, and who are not on the ‘official’ shielding list, be vaccinated in Phase 1?"

"I have ME, which is a neuro-immune illness, and I have been shielding since March. I’m in my 50’s."

Sarah: Hi Michele. As an over-50, you are on the priority list but ME is not a priority condition as it does not increase your risk of coronavirus, so that won’t bump you up. More info can be found here

Why will GPs reportedly be delivering vaccines instead of pharmacists?

A great question here from a reader that is following up on the story that GPs will be paid to deliver vaccines

@Ian Harding says:

"Why are GPs being paid to deliver vaccines? They are already paid. Why not use pharmacists? I get my annual flu jab from a Pharmacist. Let's face it, they are much more competent in drug handling anyway, so they'd be ideal."

Sarah: I am guessing a lot of this will have to be done outside of GP hours. But yes, I am never very comfortable with doctors being incentivised to give people drugs. If it is beneficial for people they should be doing it anyway.

How will the vaccine be distributed globally given it needs to be kept at minus 70C?

@Edward Seaton asks: 

"Am I missing something? Exactly how is this unproven wonder potion supposed to be carried around the globe? How many places in this country, let alone Uganda, have minus 70C storage facilities?"

Sarah:  Yeah it’s definitely a major hurdle and one I suspect will hugely impact how fast we can roll out the Pfizer jab. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government abandons the Pfizer vaccine fairly quickly if the Oxford version becomes available. It’s way cheaper and easier to distribute. I suspect that’s why Pfizer announced their results early, as they know nobody would buy there version if others get their first.

Imperial College is working on a way to make MRNA vaccines more stable though, which means they could be transported at normal vaccination temperatures, so watch this space. 

Why will only doctors and nurses be giving jabs? 

@Sam Jam asks: 

"Why is giving jabs the sole province of doctors and nurses? It ain’t rocket science."

Sarah: It won’t be. Ministers have said they plan to train students, vets, dentists and physiotherapists among others. We wrote about it earlier in the year.

Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women? 

Megan asks:

"Do you know if the vaccine is safe for pregnant women to receive?"

Unfortunately, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has announced pregnant women will not receive the jab. This is because, at present, the potential risks are unknown, and there is still a “lack of evidence”.

However, the research is still ongoing. 

Scientific advice says: “Data on vaccine impact on transmission, along with data on vaccine safety and effectiveness, will potentially allow for consideration of vaccination across the rest of the population. As trials in children and pregnant women are completed, we will also gain a better understanding of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines in these persons.”