Britain will start rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Tuesday, the first Western country to start vaccinating its general population in what was hailed as a decisive watershed in defeating the coronavirus.
The mass inoculation will fuel hope that the world may be turning a corner in the fight against a pandemic that has crushed economies and killed more than 1.5 million, although ultra-cold storage and tricky logistics will limit its use for now.
Britain is the worst-hit European country from COVID-19, with over 61 000 deaths, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to turn the tide against the disease by rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine before the United States or European Union.
Britain approved the vaccine for emergency use less than a week ago, and is rolling it out through its National Health Service (NHS).
“The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic,” said NHS chief executive Simon Stevens.
“NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this COVID jab.”
In total Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.
As each person requires two doses, that is enough to vaccinate 20 million people in the country of 67 million.
About 800 000 doses are expected to be available within the first week, with care home residents and carers, the over 80s and some health service workers the top priority to get them.
The roll-out provides a test case for Pfizer and BioNTech’s distribution networks.
The shot must be stored at -70 C and only lasts five days in a regular fridge.
While Britain is relatively small and has good infrastructure, the logistical challenges mean it will first be applied in 50 hospitals and cannot yet be taken into care homes.
Pfizer and BioNTech said their shot proved 95% effective in preventing illness in final-stage trials. In all,Britain has ordered 357 million doses of seven different COVID-19 vaccines.
Russia and China have both started giving vaccine candidates to their populations before final safety and efficacy trials have been completed.