U.K. Prepares for National Deployment of Covid Vaccine

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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 with 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.

Some of the most famous figures in British life stepped forward to say that they would receive the vaccine to encourage the public to follow suit. That could include Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, who are likely to receive the vaccine within weeks, according to MailOnline reports on Sunday. The members of the royal family would make a public announcement after being inoculated to help ease fears from anti-vaccine conspiracies, the paper said. Both in their 90s, the British monarch and her husband are at the top of the priority list for the vaccine.

Celebrities such as Monty Python founder Michael Palin, Bob Geldof and Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood have also said they won’t hesitate to get the vaccine, the Mirror reported.

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 hospitals 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 health-care 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. 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.”

Meanwhile, as Brexit negotiators race to overcome last-minute differences in trade talks on Sunday, U.K. officials said that a no-deal result to the discussions wouldn’t affect the rolling out of the vaccine.

“We’ve got many contingency plans in place,” U.K. Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky TV’s “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” show. “There won’t be any effect on the deployment of this vaccine from a no-deal Brexit.”

The U.K.’s medicine regulator is also prepared for any Brexit outcome, Chief Executive June Raine said on BBC TV’s “Andrew Marr Show.”

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 Fahrenheit) 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.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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