UK Braces For Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout, Calls It 'Biggest Civilian Logistical' Effort

The UK has become the first country to approve US Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine, which will be rolled out to the public early next week.  

Following the emergency approval, the rollout will initially be focused on hospitals rather than community settings. On Thursday, Dec. 3, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said that there is no guarantee that the vaccine will be distributed in English care homes, but the health service and regulator are working to make it possible, BBC reports.

So, who is going to get the vaccine first? How is the delivery of the vaccine going to happen, and what are the logistical challenges the country has? When will people get vaccinated, and how safe is the vaccine? 

The Rollout: According to CNBC, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the process is not going to be an easy task and warned that the vaccination program is going to be “one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that the nation has faced.” 

Talking about the delivery mechanism and logistical challenges, analysts from a UK independent investment group Shore Capital believe that even if the UK National Health Service (NHS) is well equipped to handle the delivery of the vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine has characteristics that make it more difficult to deliver. 

Echoing the same sentiment, Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned that administering the vaccine posed “immense logistical challenges in distributing the vaccine,” and it will take "some months" for the UK's most vulnerable groups of people to be vaccinated against the virus. 

According to Pfizer, the vaccines need to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius and need to be delivered in special containers that can keep them up to 10 days. After the arrival at the vaccination site, they can be used for temporary storage for 30 days more, CNBC quoted Shore Capital analysts.

But questions have already been raised about the storage capacity in the country. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent and Professor of Neurosurgery Dr. Sanjay Gupta claims the cold storage facility is unavailable in most places in the UK.  

Who Gets It First? According to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), the priorities for any COVID-19 vaccination program should be the prevention of the coronavirus mortality and the protection of health and social care staff and systems. 

Secondary priorities could include vaccination of those at increased risk of hospitalization and increased risk of exposure and maintaining resilience in essential public services.

According to JCVI, the priority list for getting the vaccine is as follows:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers.
  • All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers.
  • All those 75 years of age and over.
  • All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.
  • All those 65 years of age and over.
  • All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
  • All those 60 years of age and over.
  • All those 55 years of age and over.
  • All those 50 years of age and over.

When Will People Get Vaccinated? Chief Executive of NHS England Simon Stevens says that the bulk of the vaccination program would take place from January 2021 through March and April. The government plans to start delivering the vaccine from 50 “hospital hubs,” as well as from community settings such as doctors’ surgeries at a later point, CNBC reports. 

In a statement, Pfizer said, “Now that the vaccine is authorized in the UK, the companies will take immediate action to begin the delivery of vaccine doses. The first doses are expected to arrive in the UK in the coming days, with complete delivery fulfillment expected in 2021.”

Pfizer added that the delivery of the 40 million doses would occur throughout 2020 and 2021, in stages, to ensure an equitable allocation of vaccines across the geographies with executed contracts. 

And, Finally, How Safe Is The Vaccine? Debates and discussions have been going on across the medical fraternity and public health experts on this. Dr. Sanjay Gupta notes that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine needed to meet “a two-month safety threshold,” but emphasize that “ the long-term safety of the vaccines is still unknown.”

Price Action: Pfizer Inc PFE shares traded 0.41% lower at $39.92 in the pre-market session at press time, while BioNTech SE - ADR BNTX dropped 1.17% and traded at $117.29

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