Boris Johnson may have just suffered his biggest Tory rebellion since the election but he is unlikely to be too down this morning. The Prime Minister is the receiver of some good news that could soon transform the political landscape. After positive soundings from several vaccine trials, the UK has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use. The UK is the first country to see its regulator approve the vaccine — which offers up to 95 per cent protection against coronavirus.
The expectation in government is that jabs could start to take place within days. However, the logistics are not simple — as well as the complications of mass vaccination, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at around -70C. The order of priority means the first in the queue will be health worked and elderly, vulnerable patients. If health workers are vaccinated it ought to help increase NHS capacity — with fewer staff needed to self-isolate or take sick days.
The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine — enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Only some of those doses, around ten million, are expected to be available this year. While there are not enough doses for everyone of this specific vaccine, the hope in government is that in the coming weeks other vaccines — Moderna and Oxford — will be approved.
Discussing the breakthrough, Matt Hancock told the BBC that he was now confident with the news today that 'from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better and we're going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy'. The breakthrough is of huge political significance to Johnson's government.
If Johnson can show MPs a quick return to normality is both feasible and likely he ought to be able to calm some in his party over restrictions in the short term. In the long term, an end to restrictions by the spring would give Johnson the opportunity to carve out a post-Covid agenda. This news is also a vindication for Matt Hancock. The Health Secretary has been the most enthusiastic supporter of a vaccine breakthrough to guide the UK out of this crisis — often to the scepticism of his colleagues.