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Hospitals poised for rollout of Covid vaccine next week as first deliveries set to arrive

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 03/12/2020 Sean Morrison
a close up of a bottle © Provided by Evening Standard

NHS trusts are poised for the roll out the coronavirus vaccine after it emerged the first of 40 million doses are to be administered from next week.

It comes as the military reportedly carried out dry-run drills for what will be the country’s biggest ever mass vacation, with the first deliveries of the vaccine arriving as soon as today.

Boris Johnson has warned of the "immense logistical challenges" in distributing the newly approved jab as it emerged that most care home residents will need to wait to receive it.

The UK became the first country in the world to give the go-ahead to the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech on Wednesday, paving the way for vaccinations to start next week.

NHS Test and Trace staff set up at the Liverpool Tennis Centre in Wavertree, ahead of the start of mass Covid-19 testing in Liverpool. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images) © PA Wire/PA Images NHS Test and Trace staff set up at the Liverpool Tennis Centre in Wavertree, ahead of the start of mass Covid-19 testing in Liverpool. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

The first people to receive the jab from 50 hospital hubs next week would be the over-80s, care home staff and others who may already have a hospital appointment.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said it would take until March or April for the entire at-risk population to be vaccinated.

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He said the jab has to be stored at such low temperatures that it can only be moved a few times.

Each pack of doses cannot be easily split and the 975 doses they contain would be too many for individual care homes, meaning the vaccine would be wasted.

Gallery: COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 3 trials (Photo Services) 

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson acknowledged the "immense logistical challenges”,


Video: What the Pfizer Covid vaccine side effects are (Manchester Evening News)

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He added: "It will inevitably take some months before all the most vulnerable are protected - long, cold months.

"So it's all the more vital that as we celebrate this scientific achievement we are not carried away with over-optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over.”

The recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, that care home residents and staff should be the top priority cannot yet be fully carried out.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, Conservative Party MP for West Suffolk, wears a 'Protect The NHS' face mask leaving 10 Downing Street in London, England, on December 2, 2020. Covid-19 vaccinations are set to commence in the UK next week after the country's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) today approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use, with elderly care home residents, other elderly, and care home staff reportedly set to be first in line for injections. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images) © David Cliff/NurPhoto Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, Conservative Party MP for West Suffolk, wears a 'Protect The NHS' face mask leaving 10 Downing Street in London, England, on December 2, 2020. Covid-19 vaccinations are set to commence in the UK next week after the country's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) today approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use, with elderly care home residents, other elderly, and care home staff reportedly set to be first in line for injections. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

However Sir Simon insisted the NHS was "raring to go" to vaccinate people in care homes, hopefully this month.

"Just as soon as we have the regulatory sign-off that we can do that, that we can get the jabs to the care homes so that the GPs and the nurses can arrive and give the care home residents that Covid vaccination, we will do that," he said.

"We - at this point, with a fair wind - fully expect that that will be in the first tranche of priorities for vaccination during this month."

Setting out the difficulties faced in delivering the vaccine into care homes, Mr Johnson said: "Of course we want to get it into care homes to protect the most vulnerable as fast as we possibly can."

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 02: A general view of the rear of the Louisa Jordan Hospital built to increase capacity for Covid-19 patients on December 02, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. The NHS Louisa Jordan was opened in April to provide additional capacity to treat covid-19 patients, but was not used for this purpose during the first wave. Since then, it has hosted several thousand non-covid patients to alleviate backlogs caused by the pandemic. The government has said the facility will play "a vital role in NHS re-mobilisation plans," but did not confirm if it will be involved in the forthcoming vaccination campaign. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) © 2020 Getty Images GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 02: A general view of the rear of the Louisa Jordan Hospital built to increase capacity for Covid-19 patients on December 02, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. The NHS Louisa Jordan was opened in April to provide additional capacity to treat covid-19 patients, but was not used for this purpose during the first wave. Since then, it has hosted several thousand non-covid patients to alleviate backlogs caused by the pandemic. The government has said the facility will play "a vital role in NHS re-mobilisation plans," but did not confirm if it will be involved in the forthcoming vaccination campaign. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But, he said, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has not yet authorised those transporting the vaccine to the care homes to split the packs.

Despite warning against over-optimism, Mr Johnson said it was now "sure and certain" that life could start returning to normal in 2021.

A combination of community testing, vaccines and social distancing measures was still necessary, he said.

"As we do all this we are no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year, in the spring, but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed and together reclaim our lives and all the things about our lives that we love," he said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: A general view of the ExCel London conference and exhibition centre, which has previously been used as an NHS Nightingale Hospital, on December 02, 2020 in London, England. The Nightingale field hospitals were built in the spring to accommodate a wave of Covid-19 patients, although were scarcely used for that purpose. Recently, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens floated the idea that they could be used in the coming vaccination campaign. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images) © 2020 Getty Images LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: A general view of the ExCel London conference and exhibition centre, which has previously been used as an NHS Nightingale Hospital, on December 02, 2020 in London, England. The Nightingale field hospitals were built in the spring to accommodate a wave of Covid-19 patients, although were scarcely used for that purpose. Recently, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens floated the idea that they could be used in the coming vaccination campaign. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Both Pfizer and BioNTech have said the jab can be sent to care homes, as long as the vaccine travels for no more than six hours after it leaves cold storage and is then put in a normal fridge at 2C to 8C.

Ben Osborn, Pfizer's UK country manager, told reporters: "The point I really want to emphasise is, at the point of administration and deployment by the NHS, our vaccine can be stored under normal refrigerated temperatures at 2-8C for five days.

"And that gives us the flexibility to reach the target populations identified this morning by the JCVI over the months ahead.”

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people with two doses, given 21 days apart.

A member of staff instructs a student on how to take a swab for a lateral flow COVID-19 test on the first day of operation of new asymptomatic testing site in the University of Hull's Allam Sport Centre in Hull, northern England on November 30, 2020. - The testing site, which has been established through a partnership between the University of Hull and NHS Test and Trace, is aiming to test asymptomatic university students during the first week of December in order to help them return home safely for Christmas. Students will be encouraged to get tested twice during the first week of December using Lateral Flow Devices. If they receive two negative tests they are advised to return home immediately. Should a student test positive they will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, still with enough time to return home for Christmas. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images) A member of staff instructs a student on how to take a swab for a lateral flow COVID-19 test on the first day of operation of new asymptomatic testing site in the University of Hull's Allam Sport Centre in Hull, northern England on November 30, 2020. - The testing site, which has been established through a partnership between the University of Hull and NHS Test and Trace, is aiming to test asymptomatic university students during the first week of December in order to help them return home safely for Christmas. Students will be encouraged to get tested twice during the first week of December using Lateral Flow Devices. If they receive two negative tests they are advised to return home immediately. Should a student test positive they will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, still with enough time to return home for Christmas. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 800,000 doses of the jab would arrive next week, with millions more following in the coming weeks.

Sean Marett, who is chief commercial officer at BioNTech and has responsibility for distribution, said the UK was likely to receive at least five million doses of vaccine by the end of the year.

He said the first deliveries of the vaccine could arrive in the UK as soon as Thursday, or in the coming days.

The UK had initially expected 10 million by the end of December, but Mr Marett said the amount being shipped out was being scaled back for all orders.

Earlier, Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, said "no corners have been cut" in assessing the jab's safety.

Information obtained by the PA news agency on the jab's rollout says that once the vaccine arrives in the UK from Pfizer's plant in Belgium, batches will be checked at a central depot to ensure their quality.

Public Health England (PHE) will process orders placed by the NHS for next-day delivery to hospital hubs around the UK.

Meanwhile, a further 648 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, while there were a further 16,170 lab-confirmed cases. 

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Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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