The largest scale vaccination campaign in UK history is about to begin.
But NHS leaders have warned that the vaccination programme for Covid-19 is a “marathon not a sprint”.
While the news of the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been welcomed, health leaders have cautioned that the rollout of the vaccine poses a “formidable” challenge.
Meanwhile, scientists have hailed the vaccine approval as a “huge landmark in the global efforts to address this pandemic”.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “An effective vaccine, along with advances in treatment and rapid turnaround mass testing, presents real hope for a way out of the pandemic.
“It’s reassuring to know that the regulator has reached this decision only after very careful evaluation of safety, quality and effectiveness.
“The logistics of administering the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are formidable, but the NHS has been preparing for this, and trusts will play a key role.
“The health service has an excellent track record of delivering vaccination programmes – though this will be on an unprecedented scale, with added challenges because of the need to run mass vaccination centres and the requirement for cold storage.
“And while this announcement gives great cause for hope, it’s important to remember that this does not mean life gets back to normal – at least until the spring or early summer.
“For the time being our best defence against Covid-19 is to prevent infection by observing lockdown restrictions.
“We’ll need that to get through the tough winter weeks ahead.
“But now at least we have the prospect of better days ahead.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, added: “This is the starting klaxon for people readying to deliver the vaccine.
“What’s ahead will be a marathon and not a sprint, with many months ahead to vaccinate everyone who needs it.
“This welcome news, however, does not mean that we are immediately out of the woods.
“Our already-stretched NHS faces a monumental effort now to roll-out the vaccine quickly and effectively.”
He added: “What we cannot do now is let our guard down.
“The virus is still with us, is still dangerous and our health and social care sectors are under enormous pressure.
“It is crucial that everyone sticks to the rules and does what they can to control the stem of the virus this winter.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “The news of the approval of this Covid-19 vaccine will come as a relief to many people in the UK.
“This will be a huge logistical operation and will require the services of those from across health services and beyond to make it work.
“As the plans for the roll-out are developed, nursing staff will continue to work with colleagues to ensure it can be safely delivered.
“It is essential these plans include details on maintaining day- to-day heath and care services for all those that need them.
Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The continued progress on vaccines is fantastic news.
“A route towards a much better situation in the UK is becoming clear.
“A further circuit-breaker in January or possibly February is likely to be needed.
“But, it is realistic to hope that by March or April the vast majority of older people, care home residents, and those with severe conditions will have been immunised.
“We can then work towards wider immunisation – with ideally much of the population covered in time for next winter.
“Life won’t ever be the same as it was before Covid-19, but it will feel a whole lot better than now.
“For the foreseeable future, and maybe forever, we are very unlikely to reach the situation we are in with smallpox (gone), polio (almost gone), or measles (controlled in populations with high enough vaccine coverage).
“Instead, we are going to need to find ways to fairly happily live alongside this virus.”
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, added: “This is excellent news and a huge landmark in the global efforts to address this pandemic.
“The regulators have clearly been satisfied with the data presented to them.
“The Pfizer vaccine does require storage at around -70C, which will pose significant logistical challenges for all countries that choose to use it.
“These are not insurmountable but certainly challenging.
“Other vaccines, such as the Oxford AstraZeneca candidate, require storage at much lesser temperatures and will be simpler to transport.
“Given we will certainly need more than one licensed vaccine to maximise global coverage, everyone will still be eagerly waiting for further developments from Oxford and Moderna.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s council, said: “Today’s news is most welcome and marks an incredible achievement of modern science, given less than a year ago we hadn’t even heard of Covid-19, never mind a vaccination against it.
“It offers hope that we will finally start to bring the pandemic to an end, but we have never tried to deliver a vaccination programme of this size, and at this speed, and there are many practical hurdles to consider and overcome.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, added: “Some people may have to wait a little longer for a more stable vaccine to become available, and we’d urge the public to be patient.
“We don’t expect practices to be getting any vaccines for at least another two weeks and we believe the campaign will begin in full force in the new year.”
Dr Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at Wellcome, said: “This is a historic day and an important moment at the end of an incredibly difficult year.
“For a vaccine to be developed, receive emergency approval and be ready to roll out in less than a year for a new virus is completely unprecedented.
“The speed of development for this and other vaccine candidates is testament to an extraordinary, collaborative, global research effort.
“This emergency use authorisation from the MHRA is a significant milestone and is very encouraging.
“This decision, independent from government or other external influence, begins to clear the path for this vaccine to be rolled out to a wider population.”
Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, added: “The authorisation of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is brilliant news and a historic moment providing a light at the end of a gloomy tunnel.”
Professor Arne Akbar, president of the British Society for Immunology, added: “This is a momentous day for us all.
“Covid-19 has impacted all our lives in so many ways and hope of an exit strategy has relied on a safe and effective vaccine. Today that hope has been realised with the announcement.
“It is only 12 months since the first case recorded case of Covid-19 and in that time, researchers around the world have worked tirelessly to increase our understanding of this new disease and develop safe and effective vaccines.
“To achieve this within this timescale is remarkable and the researchers should be applauded.”