The UK launches the world’s first mass vaccination program

The UK celebrated a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday when it launched the largest vaccination program in the country’s history with a new Covid-19 jab.

The first patients in line with what has been called “V-Day” – over the 80s, nursing home workers and risky healthcare professionals – will roll up their sleeves for an initial dose from early morning.

They will then need a second jab in 21 days.

Last week, Britain became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, raising hopes for a breakthrough in the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

Britain has been one of the most affected countries in the world, with more than 61,000 deaths in the outbreak from 1.6 million cases.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent days in intensive care with Covid-19 earlier this year, called it a “major step forward in Britain’s fight against coronavirus”.

Britain’s health secretary Matt Hancock, who has offered to have a jab on live television to allay public fears, said the rollout was a “key element” in protecting the most vulnerable.

The head of the state National Health Service in England, Simon Stevens, said it was a “decisive turning point” towards the “biggest health challenge” since the NHS was founded in 1948.

Regulatory approval of the vaccine was given last Wednesday, which led to a race against time to prepare many vaccination centers across the country.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of jab – enough to vaccinate 20 million people – with 800,000 in the first batch.

Up to four million doses are expected by the end of December.

Queen could lead the way

Mass vaccination is a coordinated response from all four nations in the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – which normally establish their own health policy.

The public has largely been in favor of rapid approval of the vaccine, but ministers and healthcare professionals are aware that they still need to combat mistrust.

The independent pharmaceutical and healthcare product claims that no corners were cut and its assessment and approval procedures met strict international standards.

NHS England said thousands had already been given jabs during trials without any serious side effects.

Nevertheless, it has been reported that Queen Elizabeth II, who is 94 years old among the first to stand in line for the vaccination due to her age, could launch a public campaign to encourage compliance.

The government said it would issue vaccine cards to remind people to get a booster after three weeks, but insisted it did not introduce immunity certificates.

Logistic headache

Healthcare providers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the vaccine would only have a “marginal impact” on the number of hospitals during the winter months.

Johnson called for patience and urged the public to adhere to strict social distance guidelines to prevent an increase in cases, especially when the rules are released over Christmas.

Health officials have already encountered a logistical headache about how to administer the vaccine to the elderly or hospital carers.

The vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), making hospitals and other medical hubs the only places that can handle such extremely low temperatures.

The Pfizer-BioNTech drug manufactured in Belgium has also raised concerns about potential supply disruptions when the UK leaves the European Union’s internal market and customs union.

But the British government said the military was on high alert to lift the vaccine if there was any border disturbance from January 1.

The majority of the UK’s vaccine needs are expected to be met by a jab developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which is awaiting regulatory approval.

The government has initially ordered 100 million doses of the drug, which is cheaper to manufacture and easier to store and transport with conventional refrigerators.

( Jowharwith AFP)