London: The U.K. is gearing up to deploy its first Covid-19 vaccine with plans to provide the shot at more than 1,000 centers across the country over the coming weeks with the first jab expected to be given on Tuesday.
The vaccine, created by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, has arrived at secure locations in the U.K. from Belgium, the Department of Health and Social Care said Sunday. Following quality checks to ensure the jabs have been kept at the correct temperature, the shots will be made available to 50 hospital hubs around the country, before being distributed to doctor-run vaccination centers that will administer the jabs.
The U.K. will become the first western country to deploy a Covid-19 vaccine after regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Wednesday. The government has bought 40 million doses from the companies, enough to inoculate 20 million people on the two-dose regimen. The shots will be given in order of priority, with the first vaccines going to those in care homes, including workers, and people over 80 years old.
Vaccines are planned to arrive at hospitals Monday with the first vaccinations starting Tuesday, according to a separate release from NHS England, with patients aged 80 and over who are already in hospital or attending appointments there among the first to receive the jab, the NHS said. Any appointments not used for the first priority groups will be given to healthcare workers at high-risk of serious illness from Covid-19.
“This coming week will be an historic moment as we begin vaccination against Covid-19,” Matt Hancock, the U.K.’s health secretary, said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to make sure we can overcome significant challenges to vaccinate care home residents.”
One of the major challenges over the coming weeks will be to ensure the vaccine is kept at the right temperature. The shot must be stored at about minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Farenheit) and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used, according to NHS England. Once defrosted, the shot has a lifespan of days. Each box of vaccines, containing five packs of 975 doses, must be unpacked manually and the temperature downloaded to check it hasn’t changed in transit.
When more of the vaccine becomes available, smaller sites like local pharmacies will also be involved in administering the jabs, the government said.