LONDON – Final checks were being carried out on Sunday on the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine developed by the American drug manufacturer Pfizer and BioNTech from Germany before being delivered to hospitals across the UK in ultra-cold containers.
About 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be in place for the start of the immunization program on Tuesday, which will be the largest ever in the country and is being watched closely around the world. According to reports, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has dubbed Tuesday as “V-Day,” a nod to WWII victories.
“Despite the huge complications, hospitals will begin the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director. “The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will land in hospitals by Monday already.”
Last week the UK became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine has been shown to have approximately 95% efficacy. Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday in about 50 hospital centers in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin rolling out their vaccine the same day.
Governments and health agencies around the world will be monitoring the British vaccination program, which will take months, to identify its successes and failures and adjust their own plans accordingly. The United States hopes to begin vaccinations later this month. British regulatory authorities are also examining data on the vaccines from American biotechnology company Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford University.
Russia on Saturday began vaccinating thousands of doctors, teachers and others at dozens of centers in Moscow with its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which was approved over the summer after being tested in only a few dozen people.
The excitement in Britain, which has the highest virus-related death toll in Europe, at more than 61,000, was evident.
“This coming week will be a historic moment as we begin to vaccinate against COVID-19,” said Hancock.
Patients aged 80 and over who already attend hospital as outpatients and those who are discharged after a stay in hospital will be among the first to receive the injection. Hospitals will also begin inviting over 80s for a vaccine photo and will work with nursing homes to order staff for vaccination clinics. Any appointments not taken will be offered to those health workers deemed to be at the highest risk of COVID-19. Everyone who is vaccinated will need a booster vaccine 21 days later.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment on speculation that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, will soon be vaccinated and then made public, a move that could reassure anyone nervous about getting vaccinated.
“Our aim is absolutely to protect all members of the population, of course, Her Majesty, too,” said Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the British Medicines and Care Products Regulatory Agency, who authorized the vaccine, told the BBC.
The UK has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which can cover 20 million people. Because the British government only immunizes people over the age of 16, around 55 million people in the UK will be eligible. In total, Britain has acquired 357 million doses of seven vaccine candidates, including 100 million of the much cheaper Oxford vaccine. which has a lower efficacy rate than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Now that the first tranche of the vaccine has arrived from the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Belgium, a specialist medical logistics company is carrying out checks to ensure there was no damage during transit. This could take up to a day.
All boxes containing the vaccines, containing five packs of 975 doses, will need to be opened and unpacked by hand at specially licensed premises. After that, the vaccines will be made available to hospitals.
Introducing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is complicated because it needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures: around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit). Fortunately, the vaccine is stable at normal refrigerator temperatures, between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 to 46.4 F), for a few days, meaning it can be stored locally. After defrosting the vaccine, which takes a few hours, extra time is needed to prepare it for shot.
Public Health England has secured 58 Twin Guard very low temperature freezers that provide adequate storage for around five million doses. The refrigerators, which are not portable, have approximately 86,000 doses.
Not only hospitals provide the vaccine. Local doctors’ offices and other local health care centers are being put in reserve to start delivering the vaccine, and a small number are expected to do so the week of December 14. More medical practices in more parts of the country will be introduced gradually during December and in the coming months.
There are plans for vaccination centers that treat large numbers of patients in sports areas and conference centers and for local pharmacies to be able to offer the injections as they do with annual flu shots.
Although nursing home residents are at the top of the priority list given to the British government by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, they will not receive the vaccines immediately, as the 975 dose vaccine packages cannot yet be divided, making it very difficult to distribute vaccines to individual care homes.
The NHS hopes authorities will soon approve a safe way to distribute the dose kits so that the shots can reach nursing homes during December.
In the first phase of the immunization program, Britain has created nine separate groups in its priority list down to those aged 50 and over. Overall, he hopes that up to 99% of people most at risk of dying from COVID 19 will have been immunized in the first phase.
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Pan Pylas, The Associated Press