U.K. Faces ‘Mammoth Challenge’ With Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out

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The U.K. faces a “mammoth challenge” to vaccinate a million people a week against coronavirus, a senior government medic warned, but he said the National Health Service is ready and doctors have been told to keep pace with manufacturers’ production of doses.

Jonathan Van Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, also said Covid-19 vaccines should be prioritized for public health care rather than sold privately to those who can afford to jump the queue -- though he conceded the issue is one for the government rather than clinicians.

“An army of people have been working on this for months behind the scenes,” he said in a televised briefing on Wednesday, when asked about the challenges of refrigeration and transportation that could slow distribution of vaccines. “I am very reassured on all of these points.”

Positive preliminary results for a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE this week sounded the starting gun for the next phase in the pandemic, with many governments hopeful an effective vaccine will help end the cycle of costly lockdowns. But the U.K. regulator has not yet approved any shots, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Monday “there is a long way before we have got this thing beat.”

June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said there is “absolutely no chance” the regulator will compromise on safety standards to speed up the approval process.

She also said it’s not possible to predict which vaccine will come first, after early results showed the Pfizer vaccine had been 90% effective in trials.

If a vaccine is approved, the U.K. plans to give priority to care home residents and workers, followed by people 80-years-old and over, those aged 70-80, then 60-70, and after that adults with underlying health conditions.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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