Hindustan Times, London

A pharmacy technician from Croydon Health Services, takes delivery of Covid-19 vaccine shots, developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, at Croydon University Hospital in Croydon, U.K., on December 5.(Bloomberg)



Batches of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived in 50 hospitals across the United Kingdom for the start of a mass vaccination programme from Tuesday, with those over 80 years prioritised to receive the first of their two-dose course.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called it a “historic moment”, while Stephen Powis, England’s medical director, noted logistical challenges involved and cautioned that Tuesday would mark the beginning of a long haul, calling the vaccination programme “a marathon, not a sprint”.

The vaccine needs to be delivered in two does, 21 days apart. Queen Elizabeth, 94, and Prince Philip, 99, are expected to be among the first group to be vaccinated. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine; so far 800,000 doses have arrived and 4 mn more are expected by the end of the month from Belgium.

The UK regulator, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), defended its expeditious approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine last week. It faced some international criticism and uneasiness over the timeline.

June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: “I would really like to emphasise that the highest standards of scrutiny, of safety and of effectiveness and quality have been met, international standards. And so there should be real confidence in the rigour of our approval”.

“More than that, our Commission on Human Medicines has scrutinised every piece of data too, so there should be no doubt whatever that this is a very safe and highly effective vaccine. It will help us turn the corner”, she added.

Leading individuals in various sections of society are being enlisted to help overcome anxieties and anti-vaccine content on social media. Members of the royal family receiving the vaccine is also likely to be widely publicised.

Hancock said over the weekend: “This coming week will be a historic moment as we begin vaccination against Covid-19. We are prioritising the most vulnerable first and over-80s, care home staff and NHS colleagues will all be among the first to receive the vaccines”.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure we can overcome significant challenges to vaccinate care home residents as soon as possible too. I urge everybody to play their part to suppress this virus and follow the local restrictions to protect the NHS while they carry out this crucial work.”

New cases and deaths have registered a minor drop in recent weeks, particularly since the month-long lockdown in England. As of Sunday evening, there were 17,272 new cases and 231 deaths across the UK. As many as 1,061 people categorised as ‘Indian’ in official records have so far died in England.