LONDON – Final checks are underway on Sunday for shipments of the coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech before being launched to hospitals across the UK in supercooled containers.
About 800,000 doses of vaccine are expected to be available for the start of the immunization program on Tuesday, which will be the largest in the country and is being closely watched worldwide. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed Tuesday “V-Day,” a nod to victory in World War II.
“Despite the enormous complexity, the hospital will begin the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history starting Tuesday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director. “The first phase of vaccine delivery will land at the hospital on Monday in readiness.”
Last week Britain became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have an efficacy of around 95%. Vaccinations will be given starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital centers in the UK. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination launches the same day.
Governments and health agencies around the world will monitor the UK’s vaccination program, which will take months, to track its successes and failures and adapt their own plans. The United States hopes to start vaccinations later this month. UK regulatory authorities are also examining data on vaccines from American biotech companies Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford University.
Russia on Saturday began vaccinating thousands of doctors, teachers and others at dozens of centers in Moscow with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which was approved over the summer after being tested on only a few dozen people.
The excitement in Britain, which has the highest number of virus-related deaths in Europe at more than 61,000, is clear.
“This coming week will be a historic moment when we start vaccinating for COVID-19,” said Hancock.
Patients aged 80 years and over who have already visited the hospital as outpatients and those who are discharged after staying in the hospital will be the first to receive the injections. Hospitals will also start inviting more than 80s for vaccine shots and will work with nursing homes to order staff into vaccination clinics. Any appointments that are not taken will be offered to the healthcare workers deemed to be at highest risk of COVID-19. Everyone who is vaccinated will need the booster injection 21 days later.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment on speculation that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, would soon be vaccinated and then published, a move that could convince anyone nervous about getting vaccinated.
“Our goal is to protect every member of the population, Your Excellency, of course, too,” said Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Health Products Administration, which authorizes the vaccine, told the BBC.
The UK has received 40 million doses of Pfizer vaccine, which can cover 20 million people. Since the UK government will only immunize people over the age of 16, around 55 million people in the UK will be eligible. In total, the UK has obtained 357 million doses of the seven vaccine candidates, including the much cheaper 100 million Oxford vaccine, which has a lower level of efficacy than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Now that the first phase of the vaccine has arrived from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Belgium, checks are being carried out by a specialist medical logistics company to make sure there is no damage in transit. This can take up to a day.
Each box containing the vaccine, which includes five packages containing 975 doses, needs to be opened and disassembled manually in a special permit area. After that, the vaccine will be available at the hospital.
Shipping the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is complicated because it needs to be stored in super cold temperatures: around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit). Fortunately, the vaccine is stable at normal refrigerator temperatures, between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 to 46.4 F), for several days, meaning it can be stored locally. After thawing the vaccine, which takes several hours, it takes additional time to prepare it in one shot.
Public Health England has procured 58 dedicated Twin Guard ultra low temperature freezers that provide sufficient storage for approximately five million doses. The refrigerators, which are not portable, hold about 86,000 doses each.
Vaccines are not only provided by hospitals. The local doctor’s office and other local health care centers are preparing to start delivering vaccines, with a small number expected to do so by the week of December 14. More medical practice in more parts of the country will take place gradually over December and over the coming months.
There are vaccination center plans that treat a large number of patients in the sports area and conference centers and local pharmacies can offer injections as they do with the annual influenza shot.
Although residents of nursing homes top the list of priorities given to the UK government by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, they will not get vaccinated right away, as the 975-dose vaccine package cannot yet be divided, making it very difficult. to deliver vaccines to individual nursing homes.
The NHS hopes the authorities will soon agree on a safe way to split the dose packs so that the injections can reach nursing homes during December.
During the first phase of the immunization program, the UK has formed nine separate groups on its priority list up to those aged 50 years and over. Overall, they hope that up to 99% of the people most at risk of dying from COVID 19 have been immunized during the first phase.