Britain will begin vaccinating its population on Monday with the COVID-19 shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, touting its position as the first Western country to roll out an inoculation program against the novel coronavirus.
Britain, which is rushing to vaccinate its population faster than the United States and the rest of Europe in a bid to put the pandemic behind it, is the first country to roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot.
It last year rolled out the Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech vaccine.
It has put more than one million COVID-19 vaccines into arms already – more than the rest of Europe put together, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, adding that the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was a triumph.
“That’s a triumph of British science that we’ve managed to get where we are,” Hancock told Sky. “Right at the start, we saw that the vaccine was the only way out long term.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has secured 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored at fridge temperatures between two to eight degrees, making it easier to distribute than the Pfizer shot.
Six hospitals in England will administer the first of around 530,000 doses Britain has ready. The program will be expanded to hundreds of other British sites in the coming days, and the government hopes it will deliver tens of millions of doses within months.
Britain last month became the first country to use a different vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, which has to be stored at very low temperatures.
Other Western countries have taken a longer and more cautious approach to rolling out vaccines, though Russia and China have been inoculating their citizens for months with several different vaccines still undergoing late-stage trials.
China on Dec. 31. approved its first COVID-19 vaccine for general public use, a shot developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm. The company said it is 79% effective against the virus.
Russia said on Nov. 24 its Sputnik V vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Institute, was 91.4% effective based on interim late-stage trial results. It started vaccinations in August and has inoculated more than 100,000 people so far.
India approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday for emergency use.
Cases of COVID-19 in Britain have risen sharply in recent weeks, fueled by a new and more transmissible variant of the virus. On Sunday there were nearly 55,000 new cases and in total more than 75,000 people in the country have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic – the second highest toll in Europe.
While the government has been keen to hail its vaccination program as the furthest advanced in the world, it has had to balance the optimism of that message and plead with the public to stick to rules to prevent new infections.
Johnson said on Sunday that tougher restrictions were likely to be introduced, even with millions of citizens already living under the strictest tier of rules.
Asked whether the government was considering imposing a new national lockdown, Hancock said, “We don’t rule anything out.”
The spread of the variant virus has also forced the government to change its approach to vaccination. Britain is now prioritizing getting a first dose of a vaccine to as many people as possible over giving second doses. Delaying the distribution of second shots should help stretch the supply.
The change of strategy has drawn criticism from some British doctors.