Leading article

Vaccine approval offers a way out of Covid nightmare

The announcement yesterday morning that the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK is hugely positive news and offers real hope that the virus that has blighted all our lives could finally be brought under control.

While it is anticipated that a number of vaccines in development around the world will be given the green light, yesterday's approval by Britain's medicines regulator came sooner than expected and could see frontline healthcare staff and elderly care home residents given the jab within a very short time.

This swift decision by the UK has come in for criticism from the European Medicines Agency, which said its longer approval procedure was more appropriate.

However, the head of Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that despite the speed of approval, no corners had been cut and the organisation's way of working was 'equivalent to all international standards'.

It is important that the public is reassured about the safety of all the vaccines that become available as this confidence will be crucial in ensuring a high uptake.

And while there was enormous excitement following the latest developments yesterday, there was also a recognition that rolling out a mass vaccination programme will be a major undertaking.

In particular, the Pfizer/BioNTech product presents considerable logistical difficulties as it needs to be stored at -70C although other vaccines, including the one developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca, will be more easily deployed.

The first and deputy first ministers, along with the health minister, were understandably delighted at the vaccine news but also cautioned that we need to maintain current precautions as the virus continues to pose a threat.

This is a timely reminder given that on Tuesday, Northern Ireland passed a grim milestone with more than 1,000 deaths recorded by the Department of Health, which relates mainly to hospital patients.

Robin Swann pointed out that while positive cases are coming down, the numbers are still too high, our hospitals remain under pressure and there will be difficult days ahead as we move through the winter.

We also have to get through the Christmas period and there will be real fears that family gatherings could lead to another spike in cases in the new year.

We are now able to see a way out of this nightmare and that should provide all the encouragement we need to keep ourselves and our relatives safe for the next few months as the vaccine is rolled out.

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Leading article