After a year to remember for all the wrong reasons, hopes are high for a better 2021 as the NHS begins vaccinating its first patients against coronavirus.
Older people and those with a range of underlying health conditions are deemed most at risk from coronavirus (also called Covid-19). Since it arrived in the UK at the beginning of this year, many in the at-risk groups have had to shield or self-isolate at home, cutting themselves off from loved ones and unable to venture out or socialise for fear of catching the potentially lethal respiratory virus.
But all the while, scientists have been hard at work developing and testing vaccines to give vital protection against the virus. Now the first vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, with more expected to follow soon, signalling the beginning of the biggest immunisation programme in history.
From this week the NHS will begin vaccinating patients against coronavirus at dozens of ‘hospital hubs’ across the country. First to get the new vaccine will be those most at risk, including people over 80 and those who work in care homes. NHS staff worked through the weekend to prepare for the launch of the programmes, with the first vaccinations due to take place today (Tuesday).
There are 50 hubs in the first wave and more hospitals will start vaccinating over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up. Patients aged 80 and over who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the jab.
Hospitals will also begin inviting over-80s in for a jab and will work with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics. Any appointments not used for these groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from coronavirus. All those given the vaccination will also need a booster jab 21 days later.
Family doctors and other primary care staff are also on standby to start delivering the jab. A small number of GP-led primary care networks will begin doing so from next Monday (December 14th) with more practices in other parts of the country joining in on a phased basis during December and in the new year.
The first approved vaccine needs to be stored at -70°C, making it more practical to deliver from ‘hospital hubs’ which have the facilities to store it. However, a different UK-developed vaccine is expected to be approved soon which will be much easier to transport, store and deliver. Vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients will be set up in sporting venues and conference centres when further supplies of vaccine come on stream.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, explained: “Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday. The NHS has a strong record of delivering large scale vaccination programmes, from the flu jab, HPV vaccine and lifesaving MMR jabs. Hardworking staff will once again rise to the challenge to protect the most vulnerable people from this awful disease.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “This coming week will be an historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19. We are prioritising the most vulnerable first and over-80s, care home staff and NHS colleagues will all be among the first to receive the vaccines.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we can overcome significant challenges to vaccinate care home residents as soon as possible too. I urge everybody to play their part to suppress this virus and follow the local restrictions to protect the NHS while they carry out this crucial work.”