London, United Kingdom – When Ayesha Sharieff, a general practitioner in a south London surgery, administered the first COVID vaccines to her patients earlier this month, she was elated.
“It was the best afternoon I have had in a long time,” said Sharieff, who has been a doctor for 20 years. “After all these difficult times that we went through recently, it was a real pleasure. I wanted to jump in my car and honk my horn.
Each day, Sharieff and his team vaccinate up to 300 patients, currently focusing on the elderly in the region’s diverse urban population as a priority, as part of the rapid roll-out of the vaccine in the UK.
“I recently vaccinated a Caribbean infectious disease nurse who must have been 88 years old,” Sharieff said. “It was just such an honor to do this for her. I was crying.
The UK received early praise for its vaccine rollout, which has enabled it to produce double the number of vaccinations per person per day than any other European country.
This marks a major turnaround, as with the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, the UK government faces heavy criticism for failing to contain the virus.
More than six million people in the UK have so far received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, part of the largest vaccination program in UK history. The National Health Service (NHS) has vaccinated more than half of people aged 80 and over and more than half of residents of nursing homes for the elderly, two considered a priority, according to the Department of Health and Business social.
Once these priorities are addressed, the UK will offer the vaccine to all people over 50, and then to all over 18.
‘Flexible and scalable system’
The government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to offer a first dose of the vaccine to all British adults, who represent 51 million of its 67.5 million inhabitants, by September.
He will begin a 24-hour injection trial soon as he continues to add more vaccination sites to speed up the pace of delivery.
Good logistical planning and significant financial investments have supported the first positive vaccination figures, according to Sarah Schiffling, a supply chain expert at John Moores University in Liverpool.
“We cannot underestimate the fact that the UK is spending nearly £ 12 billion on the purchase, manufacture and deployment of the vaccine,” she told Al Jazeera. “But the UK sees the benefit of having a coordinated approach. It started off very well and resulted in a number of patients being vaccinated very quickly, which is very promising.
Schiffling believes the centralized nature of the NHS as well as the UK’s ‘wide-ranging distribution network’ – which spans from local GPs to mass vaccination centers – have also played a key role. “It’s a flexible and scalable system that has worked very well so far,” she explained.
The NHS, unlike some countries which have a federal approach, already has departments in place for wholesale purchases, says Schiffling, and the UK has invested quickly in materials such as syringes which are now in high demand.
“A system can work along the supply chain, and that has been to the advantage of the UK here,” she said.
UK adopts first-dose strategy
The UK became the first Western country to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine on December 2 when the drug regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. It has since also approved vaccines produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna, but doses of the latter are not expected for months.
But unlike other countries, the UK has decided to increase the time between vaccine doses given to people from 21 days to 12 weeks, a move that should mean more people will get their first dose faster.
“The UK has made people who get the first doses a priority,” said Mark Jit, professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “It allowed more people to be vaccinated quickly. From what we know about vaccines, the first dose offers fairly good protection, especially with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. It’s not that the second dose will be abandoned entirely. “
Professor Jit says the story of previous successful campaigns in the UK has also contributed to rapid deployment.
“The UK has an advantage because it has a long history of successful vaccine introduction,” he said, highlighting the introduction of the shingles vaccine in adults in 2013, the HPV vaccine for adolescents in 2008; and national influenza campaigns. “Part of that is good communication too, so there is good public confidence in vaccines.”
But Jit added that while the success of the vaccine rollout in the UK is good news, the problem will persist as all countries still need vaccines.
“This is a global problem and the pandemic will not be resolved until we address these global concerns,” he said.
With England in a third national lockdown since January 2, after a highly transmissible variant helped push the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 to record levels, for some the vaccination cannot come sooner .
The UK is now rapidly approaching 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths, marking the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth highest number in the world, and around 50,000 health workers are on sick leave due to COVID infections- 19 and exhibition quarantines.
“This vaccine rollout has been one of the most exciting things in my career,” said Sharieff, the general practitioner. “But as this continues, we will need to vaccinate larger and more diverse groups of patients. We have to make sure that everyone is protected in the same way. “