The first people will receive the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine today as the NHS rapidly expands COVID-19 vaccination programmes across the UK.
The NHS is the first health service in the world to deploy the life-saving jab, which has been authorised by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after meeting strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
It is the only approved vaccine which can be stored at fridge temperatures.
The Government has secured access to 100 million doses of the vaccine on behalf of the whole of the UK, crown dependencies and Overseas Territories.
More than half a million doses are available today, with tens of millions more to be delivered in the coming weeks and months once batches have been quality checked by the MHRA.
More than 730 vaccination sites have already been established across the UK and hundreds more are opening this week to take the total to over 1,000, helping those who are most at risk from Covid-19 to access vaccines for free, regardless of where they live.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am delighted that today we are rolling out the Oxford vaccine – a testament to British science. This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight.
“Through its vaccine delivery plan the NHS is doing everything it can to vaccinate those most at risk as quickly as possible and we will rapidly accelerate our vaccination programme.
“While the most vulnerable are immunised, I urge everybody to continue following the restrictions so we can keep cases down and protect our loved ones.”
The first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccinations will be delivered at hospitals for the first few days, as is standard practice, before the bulk of supplies are sent to hundreds of GP-led services and care homes later in the week.
More than a million people in the UK have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and its roll out will continue at pace.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at fridge temperatures, between two to eight degrees, making it easier to distribute to care homes and other locations across the UK.
The vaccines will be deployed through hospital hubs for NHS and care staff and older patients to get vaccinated; local community services with local teams and GPs already signing up to take part in the programme; and vaccination centres across the country, ensuring people can access a vaccine regardless of where they live.
An army of current and former NHS staff have applied to become vaccinators, with tens of thousands having already completed their online training.
These are being processed as quickly as possible and volunteer vaccinators will be deployed as more vaccine supplies become available. GPs and local vaccination services have been asked to ensure every care home resident in their local area is vaccinated by the end of January.
The MHRA, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the four UK Chief Medical Officers agreed to delay the gap between the first and second dose of vaccines to protect the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.
In line with the recommendations of the JCVI, the vaccine will be rolled out to the priority groups including care home residents and staff, people over 80 and health and care workers, then to the rest of the population in order of age and risk, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
There are more than 730 vaccination sites across the UK.
Up to 100 more hospital sites are due to come online in England this week, subject to final assurance checks. There are also another 180 GP-led services which are due to come online this week.
The following hospitals in England will start delivering the vaccine today ahead of the rollout to hundreds of GP-led services later in the week:
- Royal Free Hospital London NHS Foundation Trust
- Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
- Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
- George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust
The current recommendation is that groups continue to be vaccinated in the following order:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
- All those 80 years of age and over, and health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over, and individuals deemed clinically extremely vulnerable
- All those 65 years of age and over
- Adults aged 18 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
This initial phase of the vaccine programme is estimated to cover around 99% of preventable COVID-19 deaths.
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is hugely positive news, and a real feather in the cap for the UK life sciences sector. It adds another weapon to the UK’s pandemic arsenal, bringing us one step closer to returning to a more normal way of life.
“This is not the end of the battle, though. Rising infection rates and new strains mean tough precautions remain necessary in the short-term. Businesses understand this and continue to do their utmost to protect their staff and customers.
“In turn, Government must continue to do all it can to protect businesses. It must ensure ongoing restrictions are grounded in evidence, continue to roll out an improved testing regime which will enable more parts of the economy to reopen safely, and ensure financial support for the hardest-hit sectors remains in place until the pandemic is past.”