Vaccine jab arriving in UK today in massive boost for vulnerable as hospitals prepare priority groups for jab within days

Published: 3 December 2020

Post Desk : The world’s first supplies of approved Covid-19 vaccine arrive in Britain today, it can be revealed.

A refrigerated truck was seen leaving the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, on Thursday morning, thought to be en route to the UK. Earlier, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said the delivery was arriving in Britain “within hours”. “I do mean hours not days,” he added shortly before 9.30am.

Officials at Pfizer and in Whitehall were keeping tight-lipped because of security concerns. Interpol has warned that criminal gangs could try to steal the vaccine. The arrival spells joy for the families of elderly people, NHS and care home staff and those made vulnerable by medical conditions, who will be among the first in the queue. It came as:

* Fears that care home residents would miss out on the first wave were eased when Professor Van-Tam indicated that the more robust Oxford vaccine would be carried directly into residential homes by NHS vaccination teams if it gets approval.

* Vaccines will be given first to nine priority groups, starting with the over-80s and NHS and care staff on the frontline. But the first phase will take until spring and those under 50 will not be vaccinated for months.

People will have to continue to follow strict social-distancing rules even after they have been vaccinated until it becomes more clear to scientists how safe it is to relax, Professor Van-Tam disclosed. “We have to take it step-by-step and see carefully what is going to be unlocked for us,” he said.

* It emerged that NHS staff may be vaccinated second, after hospital patients aged over-80, in a last-minute rethink of priorities. The Health Service Journal said some NHS staff may have to wait until spring.

* Fifty hospitals including seven in London were on standby to start vaccinating staff and patients from next week using 800,000 doses of the jab that are due to be delivered. Those in the capital include Croydon, King’s College Hospital and its sister hospital Princess Royal in Orpington, the Royal Free, Guy’s and St Thomas’, St George’s and University College Hospitals.

* A target of five million Londoners by April, provided enough doses can be supplied, using a series of mega-vaccination centres, as well as dozens of smaller ones scattered around the city.

* A Cabinet minister risked sparking a diplomatic storm today by hailing British medicines regulators as life-savers and “much better” than those in America, France and Belgium.

The US and other countries look set to approve the Pfizer vaccine in days. “I think this will all be solved in a matter of days, in the sense that I think other regulators are very close behind,” said Professor Van-Tam.

Australia ordered its medicines regulators to “put away their swimsuits and towels” to catch up with the British approval of the vaccine.

Mayor Sadiq Khan today urged Londoners not to get carried away with the vaccine news — saying London was at risk of going into Tier 3 restrictions if infections increased.

He told LBC: “Please, please, please continue to follow the rules. If we are not careful we could see the virus surging again and us as a city going into Tier 3 or there being [another] national lockdown. It’s really important we don’t get carried away with this fantastic news.”

In a round of media interviews, Professor Van-Tam gave confidence to families of elderly people in care homes by saying the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine — which it is hoped will get approval this month — would be easier to deploy and could be transported in ordinary fridges to homes.

“Its tolerance of being moved around and moved between fridges and so forth … should be a whole load easier and a whole load more deployable in multiple NHS settings — as easy as flu vaccines are handled every autumn [which is] a huge success in general practice and primary care.”

He confirmed that the need for cold chain storage of the Pfizer vaccine meant it was a “challenge” to deploy it inside care homes. “If we can get it to care homes then we absolutely will,” he told BBC Breakfast.

In contrast with the scientist’s measured comments, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson risked causing uproar with his jingoistic comments.

He boasted on LBC Radio: “I just reckon we have got the very best people in this country and we have obviously got the best medical regulators, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

“That does not surprise me at all because we are a much better country than every single one of them.” His comments came a day after the German ambassador in London, Andreas Michaelis, reacted angrily to a tweet by Business Secretary Alok Sharma claiming the UK had “led humanity’s charge against this disease”, despite it being manufactured in the EU.

Mr Williamson hailed the “promising progress” of the jab being developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Asked on Sky News if Britain could now avoid a third lockdown in the new year, Mr Williamson told Sky News: “None of us want to see a national lockdown and none of us expect to see a national lockdown.”