Public health messaging that people can have faith in the safety of coronavirus vaccines is “vitally important”, the leader of the body that has approved the Pfizer jab has said.
Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said of the Pfizer treatment that there “should be no doubt whatever that this is a very safe and highly effective vaccine”.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show about how important the public health message is to make sure that people actually take the vaccine, she said: “It’s vitally important. And I would really like to emphasise that the highest standards of scrutiny, of safety and of effectiveness and quality have been met, international standards.”
Raine said she expected the first people to be given the vaccine within days.
“It will help us turn the corner,” she said. “There’s really not one of us who hasn’t been affected by this pandemic, and our organisation, like every other, has been completely focused on doing our job to be able to help defeat this terrible disease.”
Raine, 67, who has had a 35-year career in public health, became chief executive of the UK’s medical regulator last year. The final decision on approval of the other vaccines that it is hoped will be put into general use will also rest with the body.
She used her appearance on the Marr programme to emphasise the high safety standards being applied to the vaccine rollout.
Last week, Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared to suggest the UK had rushed the approval of the Pfizer vaccine and did not review data as carefully as did American regulators. He later apologised and said he “did not mean to imply any sloppiness even though it came out that way”.
On Sunday, Raine said the process of monitoring safety would continue, with scrutiny of the vaccine’s use in practice.
“It’s continuous, it’s real time, and we’ll be sharing any new information that comes to light,” she said. “But my overall message is that the safety profile of the Covid-19 vaccine is really no different from any other vaccine – might have a mild symptom, it will probably disappear in a day or two, and nothing at all of a serious nature, so you can be confident there.”
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She also said that anyone having a flu jab should do so before having the coronavirus vaccine.
Raine was speaking after reports in Sunday newspapers that the Queen would be taking the Pfizer vaccine within weeks and would make it public after she had done so. Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the claims.
After Marr referred to the reports, she said: “I think that news that you’ve just given us is humbling, and it’s everything that we’re here to do at the MHRA.
“We’re a public health organisation, we work as full partners, if I can say, in the public health family, and our goal is totally to protect every member of the population, Her Majesty of course, as well.”
Raine was also asked about when the MHRA would approve the breaking up of the vaccine packs into smaller batches for care homes.
She told Marr: “We have approved how the vaccine can be put into the small packs, but obviously what we’re doing is giving advice and guidance on how well, carefully, that is done.
“It’s a special vaccine, it does need to be kept very cold, and then when the larger packs are split into smaller ones to go to where they will be given, that does need to be done very carefully.”