This week’s launch of a UK-wide vaccination programme against the Covid-19 virus marks a “decisive turning point” in the battle against the pandemic.
That’s according to NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, who has praised the ongoing efforts of hardworking NHS staff in making an early rollout of the first approved vaccine possible.
Since the Pfizer vaccine got the green light from regulators just last week, NHS staff have worked around the clock to manage the huge logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine. That deployment – the biggest vaccination programme in the 70-year history of the NHS – is now under way at 50 ‘hospital hubs’, with more due to begin vaccinations over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.
Commenting on this week’s events, Sir Simon Stevens said: “Coronavirus is the greatest health challenge in NHS history, taking loved ones from us and disrupting every part of our lives. Hospitals have now cared for more than 190,000 seriously ill Covid-19 patients and have seen beds fill up again in recent weeks.
“The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic. NHS vaccination programmes – which have successfully helped overcome tuberculosis, polio and smallpox – now turn their focus to coronavirus. NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this COVID jab.”
People aged 80 and over, as well as care home workers, will be first to receive the jab, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk. Hospitals have also begun inviting over-80s in for a jab and are working with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics. All those vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.
Speaking on Tuesday, when 90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first recipient of the Covid-19 vaccination, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country.
“I’m immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout. But mass vaccination will take time, and we must remain clear-eyed about the challenges that remain.
“As the programme ramps up in the weeks and months ahead, it’s as important as ever to keep to the Covid Winter plan – following the rules in your area and remembering the basics of hands, face and space.”
NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis also warned that the rollout of a vaccine will be “a marathon, not a sprint”. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that ‘cold chain’ before being used.
It’s hoped that another vaccine – developed in the UK by a team from Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca – will be approved soon. Because it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures it will be much easier to distribute and deliver. The UK Government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, which are already being manufactured and stockpiled in anticipation of its approval for use.
Plans are in place for mass vaccination centres – set up in sporting venues and conference centres – to begin delivering the vaccine when further supplies are available. GPs and other primary care staff have also been put on standby to start delivering the jab.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus.
“Now’s the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it’s time for your vaccination. Until then, protect yourselves and the NHS by continuing to follow local restrictions. We can see light at the end of the tunnel… but still have a long way to go.”