Thousands of Britons received the world’s first approved coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday as the UK embarked on a mass vaccination campaign unparalleled in the country’s history.
But even though a 90-year-old grandmother and 81-year-old William Shakespeare became the earliest recipients of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine outside of clinical trials, the practicalities of its deployment to 25 million people deemed to be the most vulnerable. risk of the disease raised questions about how quickly the country’s vulnerable population could be protected.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told lawmakers the arrival of the vaccine meant the end was in sight “not only of this terrible pandemic, but of the onerous restrictions that have made this year so difficult for so many” .
But he warned parts of the country – including areas of Essex, London and Kent – were seeing an increase in coronavirus infections, with England’s tiered restraint system due to be overhauled by December 16 . he told parliamentarians.
Mr Hancock presented plans to increase the number of hospitals joining the vaccination program from the current 50 in the coming days. He added that from next week vaccines would also be distributed to GPs, while care homes would receive doses before Christmas. New vaccination centers in venues such as sports stadiums and conference rooms will also open from early next year.
But huge logistical hurdles remain, as the vaccine, which must be stored at minus 70 ° C and can only be moved through this cold chain four times before it is used, is being distributed across the country.
At King’s College Hospital in south London, where vaccinations were given from 1:30 p.m., staff explained that the supplies were kept in pizza-style boxes containing 195 vials, each containing five doses. The entire box must be thawed at the same time, which means that all 975 doses must be used at one time.
Once thawed, the vials should be used within five days and they cannot be easily transported. “It’s a vaccine sensitive to movement, that’s the challenge, it’s a molecule that ideally shouldn’t be moved,” said Roger Fernandes, chief pharmacist and clinical director at King’s. “The idea is that the patient goes to the vaccine, not the vaccine goes to the patient,” he said, alluding to the difficulty of getting it into nursing homes.
Martin Green, managing director of Care England, an industry body representing retirement homes, said the demanding storage requirements and the need to quickly use up supplies once they have been opened would require “a very large group of people ‘to carry out vaccinations on site. Some homes had already obtained consent from residents, or those who had a power of attorney for them, to receive the vaccine so they could proceed quickly as soon as it became available.
However, Mr Green added: “I do not want to stop what the Secretary of State is saying. I think the vaccine is good news, but it won’t be delivered until Christmas, and there is no point in raising expectations that will not be met.
A hospital purchasing official added that questions remained as to whether the national supply chain would be able to provide enough basic “consumables” needed to administer the vaccine, such as wipes and bandages. “We still bear the scars of the national PPE supplies in the first wave,” added the individual who asked not to be identified so that he could frankly share his concerns.
Government and NHS leaders are aware that beyond the physical challenges of vaccine storage and distribution, people need to be reassured that inoculation is risk-free to ensure that participation is high enough to brake the transmission.
Clive Kay, Managing Director of King’s College Hospital Trust, said: “We encourage staff, patients, everyone to take the vaccine when offered; the more people are vaccinated, the faster we can get back to normal life. It’s safe, tried, tested and it will work. “
The first person to be vaccinated at King, Kenneth Coley, 98, said: “I am very happy I was chosen, I thought I would be too old.
Asked what he would say to vulnerable people who were reluctant to receive the vaccine, he added: “If you want to fight this virus, the only thing you can do is take this vaccine.”
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