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Coronavirus vaccines are rolling out across the UK

Rolling out: A dose of the COVID-19 vaccination made by Pfizer and BioNTech is administered. Photo: CNS

A VACCINE said to be 95 per cent effective against COVID-19 was given emergency authorisation to be administered across the United Kingdom from last Tuesday, becoming the first mass-vaccination program in the world.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock reportedly dubbed it “V-Day”, a reference to victory in the Second World War, as the vaccine became the first returned fire at COVID after the virus had taken 61,000 lives in the country.

Each vaccination, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech in the United States, consists of two injections spaced out over two or three weeks.

About 800,000 initial doses of vaccine had arrived in the country with a further 40 million doses purchased by the UK Government, which was enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

Healthcare workers, the elderly and vulnerable were prioritised for vaccinations.

But the emergency authorisation of the vaccine was not an “approval” of the vaccine by the UK government, John Skerritt, from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, told the ABC last week.

He said this “may sound like splitting hairs” but it meant the efficacy of the vaccine was still under review and the data was still being evaluated.

Drug review boards around the world would be watching the vaccine closely, particularly for any adverse events.

Authorisation, as opposed to approval, also reduced liability for the drug companies and government in the event of an adverse reaction.

But desperation had grown in the UK, where every two days the nation added caseloads equal to Australia’s year-long case total.

United States pro-life groups and the Catholic Medical Association have weighed in on the vaccines too, saying the quick development was laudable but called for “assurances of safety, efficacy and a full commitment to uncompromised ethical development”.

The statement was issued by the Catholic Medical Association, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the American College of Paediatricians, and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

The four physician-led organisations acknowledged in their statement that while “it is true that the animal-phase testing for these vaccines used abortion-derived fetal cells, commendably, it does not appear that production methods utilised such cells”, the statement said.

Shortly after the Pfizer and Moderna announcements on November 11 and November 16, respectively, critics claimed the vaccines had been produced using cells from aborted fetuses, leading to confusion over “the moral permissibility” of using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

But several Catholic leaders, including the chairmen of the US bishops’ doctrine and pro-life committees and an official at the National Catholic Bioethics Centre, have said it was not immoral to be vaccinated with them because any connection they have to aborted fetus cell lines was extremely remote.

Such cells were used only in a testing phase but not in the production phase.

In the case of AstraZeneca and Oxford University, they are working together to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that is sourced from cell lines that were originally abortion-derived, according to the Lozier Institute, a pro-life organisation based in the US, which studied a range of vaccines under development.

“Fortunately, there are alternatives that do not violate this basic ethical and moral standard,” the statement said.

The statement noted that over the past several decades, many of the more than 50 approved viral vaccines “have not utilised abortion-derived fetal cell lines for their production”, but have been developed with viruses “grown in the laboratory and harvested, then weakened or inactivated to serve as a safe vaccine”.

Australian authorities were hoping to begin the first roll-out of the same vaccine early next year, likely around March.

However other vaccines were still in contention with deals struck with Novavax, the University of Queensland and Oxford University/AstraZeneca.

In Queensland, borders were set to open again to Adelaide from Saturday, December 12.

The decision came after case numbers were contained in the Parafield cluster in the past four weeks.

“South Australia has not seen any cases in the last week and they’ve now had a total of 33 cases related to that Parafield cluster,” Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young said.

“It will, on Saturday, be 28 days since the first case of that cluster.

“So we saw that rapid escalation of case numbers initially and then they very quickly got on top of those cases, quarantined people and managed it.”

In the US, infections have shot up to almost 15 million cases and 283,568 deaths.

Global cases have reached 67.5 million people and 1.5 million global deaths.

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