UK rolls out Oxford Uni/AZ COVID-19 shot as cases soar

The first people are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca in the UK, as prime minister Boris Johnson reportedly considers a national lockdown to contain the new more infectious virus strain.

More than half a million doses are available today, part of a tranche of 100 million doses ordered by the UK government in advance of approval by regulators.

As previously reported by pharmaphorum, the vaccine was okayed by the UK’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) just after Christmas.

According to the government, more than 730 vaccination sites have already been established across the UK this week and hundreds more will follow to take the total to more than 1,000.

Although the vaccines have been approved to be taken in two shots separated by a few weeks, the UK’s vaccines advisory committee has issued guidance prioritising delivery of the first dose as a way of containing the spread of the new more infectious variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is becoming entrenched in the UK.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has also determined the priority groups that will get the two approved shots from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, with older adults in care homes, health and social care workers and those deemed to be clinically vulnerable among the first groups to receive it.

According to press reports, dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, has become the first person to receive the vaccine at Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

While the AZ shot is not quite as effective as Pfizer’s, it is easier to handle and can be stored in fridges instead of the specialist ultra-cool freezers and containers.

It’s not come a moment too soon, as more than 50,000 cases have been recorded each day since the 29th of December in the UK, the highest since mass testing began and there have now been more than 75,000 COVID-related deaths.

The UK’s economy has also suffered and the expected toughening of lockdown measures is likely to put the brakes on the recovery that tentatively began last summer.

Boris Johnson is expected to announce tougher measure to prevent the virus from spreading, with another national lockdown reportedly being considered by government advisers.

More than 5,000 armed forces personnel are also deployed in the effort to fight the virus, working on dozens of tasks including testing in schools, to helping the roll out of vaccines.

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