Credit: Dina Vozdvizhenskaya /

800,000 doses next week: UK becomes first country to start vaccination

The United Kingdom will become the first country in the world to start a programme of mass coronavirus vaccination, with 800,000 doses to be available from next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced:

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the free jab – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Mr Hancock said, with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.

But the bulk of the rollout will be next year, he added. “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better,” said Mr Hancock.

The Pfizer vaccine is given as two doses – three weeks apart. Immunity to Covid 19 kicks in, the company says, seven days after the second dose is given.

The British Government has said that the initial phase of the vaccination programme will be strictly targeted at those most vulnerable to Covid, and those at greatest risk of catching it – the elderly in care homes, and hospital and other medical workers.

There is no indication that the vaccine will be compulsory for British people.

It is expected that those eligible to receive the vaccine in the initial stages will be contacted directly by the NHS – there will be no process of application to receive it.

The Pfizer vaccine is – the company claims – 95% effective at stopping coronavirus infections. This means that 95 out of every 100 recipients will become functionally immune to the disease.

One of the big challenges the UK faces is that the vaccine must be stored at a very low temperature – minus seventy degrees centigrade – meaning that storing it effectively is a challenge. The vaccine will be imported into the UK in special deep freeze boxes, packed in dry ice, where it can be stored in a fridge for up to a maximum of five days before temperatures rise to a level where the vaccine is corrupted.

It is also the first of a new kind of vaccine – a so-called mRNA vaccine – that has never been approved for clinical use in human beings before.

The good news is, according to the UK, that the vaccination programme could and should mean that lockdowns and restrictions become a thing of the past by easter next year:

Hancock told BBC News that from Easter next year, the country could return to some normality and indicated that no restrictions would be needed by summer 2021.

He said: “So many families have suffered, including my own. I’m just so, so pleased … 2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better. Help is on its way. Help is on its way with this vaccine – and we can now say that with certainty rather than with all the caveats that we normally have to put around that.

“I’m confident now, with the news today, that from spring – from Easter onwards – things are going to be better. We’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy. Between now and then we’ve got to hold our resolve.”

Meanwhile, there is, as yet, no indication from the Irish Government as to when vaccination will begin in Ireland.

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