UK prepares for ‘biggest immunisation programme’ after Pfizer’s approval

The first 50 National Health Service (NHS) hospitals are gearing up for what the United Kingdom (UK) government has described as the “biggest immunisation programme in history” as the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 arrived at “secure locations” in the country from neighbouring Belgium this weekend.

Frontline healthcare staff, people over the age of 80 and care home workers will be among the first to get the vaccine as part of Phase 1 of the programme from tomorrow, which was approved for rollout by the UK’s independent regulator earlier this week.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had declared the jab, which claims to offer up to 95 per cent protection against COVID-19, is safe for human use against the novel coronavirus after “rigorous” checks.

“This coming week will be a historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“I urge everybody to play their part to suppress this virus and follow the local restrictions to protect the NHS while they carry out this crucial work,” he said.

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The minister added that the government is doing everything it could to overcome “significant challenges” to ensure care home residents are vaccinated as soon as possible after they were also cleared for Phase 1 by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), as those at the highest risk of death from the deadly virus.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said NHS staff are working through the weekend for the first vaccinations to take place from tomorrow across 50 shortlisted hubs in the first wave.

More hospitals will start vaccinating over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.

Patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the “life-saving jab”. Hospitals will also begin inviting over 80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics.

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Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be available in the UK from next week. In all, the government has ordered a total of 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate 20 million people, with two shots each, 21 days apart.

Meanwhile, the UK recorded a further 397 deaths from the deadly virus, taking the country’s death toll to 61,014.

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