It’s the day we have been waiting for since the start of lockdown in March.
Covid-19 has cast a terrible shadow over the world for most of 2020 and yesterday health minister Robin Swann revealed the virus has been linked to more than 1,000 deaths in Northern Ireland.
The grim figure doesn’t take into consideration the impact on the economy, family life, our children’s education, the already fragile health service and the mental health of a population that has been living with so much uncertainty for so long.
So, to wake up this morning to the news that one of the vaccine hopefuls has been deemed safe and effective by the UK’s official regulator is reason to celebrate.
The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for mass vaccination and the chance that life may begin to return to normal.
It is a significant step forward and is the culmination of an epic drive by experts at Pfizer/BioNTech, a willingness by the public to participate in vaccine trials and unprecedented financial support.
Pfizer reported 95% efficacy in its BNT162b2 vaccine, with no serious safety concerns observed.
The efficacy in adults over 65 years of age was over 94%, said the firm.
However, delivering the vaccine will be far from straightforward. It must be stored between -70C and -80C and there is only a short window of five days for it to be administered once it has defrosted.
Despite this, GPs who will be involved in the roll out of the programme have vowed the challenges are not insurmountable.
It does mean, however, that the virus will be best administered in large vaccination centres so will be better suited to healthcare staff and care home workers.
While care home residents are also high on the agenda, it is unlikely they will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the simple reason that it will be difficult for them to attend clinics.
Another major consideration is the fact that there is currently no formal evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission of the virus, as opposed to merely stopping infected people from falling ill.
There is a danger that the roll out of the vaccine could result in a degree of complacency if people are unaware that they have the virus.
Therefore, the test and trace system will continue to play a crucial role in keeping people safe in the months ahead, while the public must also continue to adhere to social distancing and good hand and respiratory hygiene.
So, health officials now face a number of challenges – ensuring the vaccination programme is delivered as efficiently as possible, while also maintaining public co-operation and a widespread acceptance that the vaccine is safe.
Gail Walker Premium
Another baleful milestone in the history of Northern Ireland has been passed today as the number of Covid-19 related deaths exceeds 1,000 for the first time.