All eyes have been on the United Kingdom since last week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson not only announced that the UK had approved a COVID-19 vaccine but that the country was planning mass immunizations for this week.
Hopes of normal life returning in the spring had given way to “sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed” Johnson said, according to a Guardian report.
That day has now arrived. Today, Britain’s healthcare providers are administering the first doses of the vaccine created by Pfizer and the German company BioNTech. The UK government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is expected to be a large enough quantity to vaccinate 20 million people -- a third of the country’s population. The vaccine has shown to have 95 percent efficacy.
The first batch of the vaccines, which are frozen at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, arrived in the UK last week. They have now been distributed to approximately 50 “hospital hubs” from which the vaccine will be administered, the BBC reported. Nursing home residents, health care workers, and people ages 80 and over will be first in line, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
Recipients of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will need two doses spaced at least three weeks apart. After the first vaccination, recipients will receive a credit card-sized document, which documents the specifics of the medication and reminds the bearer they still require a second dose, a CNN article notes.
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination programs in a similar process.
Beginning to administer the vaccine is "a historic moment,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC News.
“I urge everybody to play their part to suppress this virus and follow the local restrictions to protect the NHS [National Health Service] while they carry out this crucial work,” Hancock said.
While there clearly is reason for optimism, mass immunizations are certainly a mammoth undertaking. For example, in Bristol, a sports stadium is being converted into a temporary clinic to provide inoculations, as is a racecourse outside London, The New York Times reports.
Village halls, libraries, and parking lots across the UK are also being quickly turned into makeshift vaccination centers.
Despite the logistical challenges, National Medical Director of NHS England Stephen Powis told BBC News that administering the COVID-19 vaccine is the "beginning of the end" of the epidemic in the UK.
Even so, Powis, who is a professor of renal medicine at University College London, also cautioned that distribution of the vaccine will be a “marathon not a sprint.” He went on to note that it will take “many months” to vaccinate everybody who needs it.
Nonetheless, the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine by the UK’s government, and quick administration of a mass immunization plan, is clearly a reason for optimism -- not only for the people of the UK -- but for the rest of the world.
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