News of the potential vaccine - developed by Pfizer/BioNtech - has exceeded many expectations about the possible efficacy of a coronavirus jab.
However, the final-stage trial will now continue and the results published today have not yet been peer reviewed.
It is also understood that two doses of the vaccine will be required. The UK is reported to be expecting to receive 10 million doses by the end of the year with a further 30 million on order.
The trial results come just days after an estimate emerged of how long it could take to give a Covid vaccine to everybody in Lancashire - on the basis of there being sufficient supply for the whole population.
That prospect will of course depend on whether it is the Pfizer candidate, another vaccine or a combination of several which is eventually rolled out - and the rate at which the doses can be made available.
However, during a discussion at a Lancashire County Council cabinet meeting last week, the authority’s chief executive, Angie Ridgwell, set out a possible timeframe for implementing a Covid vaccination programme in Lancashire.
“Our estimate is that it’s going to take six to nine months, when we have a vaccine, to vaccinate everyone in Lancashire.
“We do have our directors of public health working collectively with the NHS to look at prioritising those people who should have vaccines in the first place - which of course will include our health and care workers, as well as the more vulnerable people in the community.
“We won’t have control over any private market, but we would seek to work with government to ensure that it wasn’t at the expense of the public health service vaccination programme,” Ms. Ridgwell added.
In September, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued a provisional priority list ranking ten groups in the order by which they should receive a Covid vaccine – sorted by age, profession and risk.
Priority within an eleventh group – listed as the “rest of the population” – had not then been determined.
However, it emerged last month that the head of the national coronavirus vaccination task force was intending only for the most vulnerable part of the population – roughly about 30 million people – to receive a jab.
Kate Bingham said in an interview with the Financial Times that “we just need to vaccinate everyone at risk” - and that talk about the time it would take to inject the whole population was “misguided”.
She added: “It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focussing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable."
However, the paper reported that Ms. Bingham said if a vaccine proved to be 95 percent effective, it may be worth distributing it more widely - while the government said that it was taking advice from the JCVI and wanted “as many people as possible to access a Covid-19 vaccine”.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on the subject last week, before the Pfizer results emerged, Lancashire’s director of public health said the national policy had not yet been finalised – and things will “chop and change” depending on how long immunity is shown to last from any vaccine.
However, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi added: “The priority will be those that would be more significantly affected [by Covid] – the over 50s, those with pre-existing conditions and key frontline workers – that’s how it will start.
“I don’t recall any situation where at the end of an epidemic, we went for the whole population [with a vaccine].
“It will probably join a vaccination schedule and eventually we may [vaccinate everybody] - but because it is a huge logistical exercise, takes time and not everybody is equally affected [by the virus], we may just keep it as the population at most risk.
“But that policy hasn’t been fully determined yet,” Dr. Karunanithi said.
WHO WILL GET PRIORITY FOR A COVID JAB?
According to the JCVI, its provisional priority list for recipients of a Covid vaccine could “change substantially if the first available vaccines were not considered suitable for, or effective in, older adults.”
The order is based on preliminary information about the vaccines in development and on the assumption that any candidate is “safe and effective in all age groups and has a moderate impact on transmission”.
In late September, the suggested order was as follows:
1. older adults resident in a care home and care home workers
2. all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
3. all those 75 years of age and over
4. all those 70 years of age and over
5. all those 65 years of age and over
6. high-risk adults under 65 years of age
7. moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
8. all those 60 years of age and over
9. all those 55 years of age and over
10. all those 50 years of age and over
11. rest of the population (priority to be determined)
Source: Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation