The UK's National Health Service is lining up thousands of medics and volunteers on Monday to be ready to deliver jabs up and down the country as the Oxford University vaccine against COVID-19 is on the brink of getting regulatory approval. The vaccine, which is being produced by bio-pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and also has a tie-up with the Serum Institute of India, is being evaluated by the UK's independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after the final cut of data was submitted by the government last Monday.
According to 'The Daily Telegraph', officials have pinpointed January 4, 2021, as the date the rollout of the mass vaccination programme will begin with so-called trained vaccinators administering the first of two jabs across stadiums, conference centres and race courses among some of the large venues being prepared for the complex task. "At the moment, we are operationalising everything for January 4 for the first Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs in arms. You'll see it everywhere, while we'll also be carrying on with Pfizer," the newspaper quoted a government source as saying.
"Tens of thousands of vaccinators and support staff have been recruited," the source said. While vaccinations were briefly paused for the Christmas weekend, the already approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have resumed rollout from Monday.
Volunteers are expected to be delivering at least a million jabs a week to the most vulnerable categories of the population by the middle of next month, once manufacturing has been scaled up. It comes as a senior UK scientist pinpointed the Oxford vaccine as a real gamechanger, which could see the country achieve herd immunity as a result of vaccination against the deadly virus by the summer months of 2021.
"The people that have been vaccinated will be protected within a matter of weeks and that's very important," Professor Calum Semple, a respiratory disease expert and member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told the BBC. "On an individual basis these vaccines are so good that they will protect individuals, so we don't have to wait for this nonsense about herd immunity developing through natural infection, we can start to protect the individuals. To get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the population to be vaccinated, and that, I'm afraid, is going to take us right into the summer I expect," he said.
Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the jab, with 40 million expected to be available by the end of March. AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot has stressed that researchers have found the "winning formula" using two doses of the vaccine, ahead of the final results being published.
He has raised hopes that the jabs are more effective than first thought and should be effective against a new variant of the coronavirus that is now causing havoc in most parts of the UK. Hospitals in the south of England say they have seen a "real rise in pressure" as the number of COVID patients needing treatment increases. On Sunday, some 30,501 infections and 316 deaths were recorded in the UK.
But the true scale will be higher, as Scotland is not releasing data around deaths between 24 and December 28, while Northern Ireland is not providing either case or death data over the Christmas period. According to the government's COVID dashboard, there were 21,286 people in hospital with coronavirus across the UK on December 22, which is the last day for which data is available. This is only slightly less than the 21,683 patients recorded on April 12 at the peak of the pandemic.
A review which will decide whether more areas will be moved into the harshest tier is expected on Wednesday, as the new highly infectious variant of coronavirus spreads across the UK and the world. More than 6 million people in east and south-east England went into the highest level of restrictions from Saturday, which now affects 24 million people representing 43 per cent of the population. Most parts of the UK remain in some form of a lockdown as a means to try and curb the more rapidly spreading variant of coronavirus.