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The UK has approved the first vaccine for COVID-19. What now?

The authorisation of Pfizer/BioNtech's mRNA vaccine by the MHRA is great news, but no-one has ever tried to roll out a vaccine as rapidly as this one, so we have some challenges to overcome.

by Glen Halliwell, Business Unit Director, Langland

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has quickly answered the first question regarding the priority vaccination groups for phase one. Everyone will need two doses over the course of around 3-4 weeks. Supply is on its way from Belgium and so the rate limiting step is most likely how fast can we vaccinate rather than how fast can the vaccine be produced. Key to this is how quickly we can create and mobilise a vaccine delivery infrastructure – fridges to store it, facilities and professionals to deliver it, but this is something the health authorities have been planning for some time since the first positive trial results came through.

There is some latent vaccine hesitancy in the UK. Figures vary from around a third of people reporting some hesitancy towards this vaccine to only 10% of parents saying they would be unlikely to vaccinate themselves and their children. This has little to do with the COVID-19 vaccine and more to do with historical, now discredited studies on vaccine safety and a general halo effect from the active anti-vax community in the UK and abroad. These are a group that it makes little sense to try and engage with on this point due to the irrationality of some of the counter arguments. A bigger barrier and one that must be front-of-mind for the Government and NHS is the one of broad education about this vaccine. What it is for, what it will protect you against, how to get it and how many injections are required to be protected. Critical here is ensuring we reach the members of the community where English is not their first language or where cultural or religious concerns regarding vaccine ingredients may lead to some hesitation.

The challenge of rolling out a brand new immunisation programme is multi-faceted, but we vaccinate huge groups of people against the flu every year and 80-90% of children in the UK receive a suite of vaccinations in the early years of their lives. So we have some form. Let’s hope the process is smooth and that the UK can reach the magic number of protected individuals (around 70% of the population) as soon as possible.

27th January 2021

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