The first consignment of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has arrived in the UK.
It has been taken to a central hub at an undisclosed location, and will now be distributed to hospital vaccination centers around the UK.
The UK has ordered 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
England’s deputy chief medical officer said the first wave of vaccinations could prevent up to 99% of Covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths.
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Speaking to BBC News, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said that would be possible if everyone on the first priority list took the vaccine and it was highly effective.
He said it was key to distribute the vaccine “as fast” and at the “highest volume” as possible, but he acknowledged there would need to be some flexibility in the list.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are made in Belgium and have traveled to the UK via the Eurotunnel.
Listen to Dr June Raine, CEO of @MHRAgovuk, describe this process ⬇️
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) December 3, 2020
The order in which people will get the jab is recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and decided by the government.
Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.
However, because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at the necessary -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there – for care home staff, NHS staff and patients – to lower the risk of wasting doses.
Prof Van-Tam told BBC News: “If we can get through phase one [of the priority list] and it is a highly effective vaccine and there is very, very high up take, then we could in theory take out 99% of hospitalisations and deaths related to Covid 19.
“That is why the phase one list is what it is, that is the primary ambition.”
The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, has apologised for remarks that seemed to criticise the UK’s vaccine approval process.