Britain on Monday took another giant step in the war against Covid-19, boosting its immunization program by giving the world’s first vaccines from a vaccine pioneered by the University of Oxford and drug giant AstraZeneca.
Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, was the first to receive the new vaccine, which was introduced by the chief nurse at Oxford University Hospital. Pinker said he’s very happy and that he can “now really look forward to celebrating the 48th anniversary of my marriage with my wife Shirley later this year.”
Since December 8, Britain’s National Health Service has been using a vaccine produced by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech Company to vaccinate healthcare workers and nursing home residents and workers. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine enhances that arsenal and is cheaper and easier to use because it does not require the extremely cold storage that a Pfizer vaccine needs.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been given in a small number of UK hospitals in the first few days so that authorities can monitor for any adverse reactions. The NHS said hundreds of new vaccination sites – in both hospitals and local doctors’ offices – will take off this week, joining the more than 700 sites already in operation.
In a shift from practices in the United States and elsewhere, Britain is now planning to give people second doses of both vaccines within 12 weeks of the first shot instead of 21 days, to speed up vaccination across as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
The government’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, said Sunday the decision “is the right thing to do for the nation as a whole.”
The UK is in the midst of a severe outbreak, with more than 50,000 new cases of coronavirus reported every day for the past six days. On Sunday, it recorded 54,990 other cases of infection and 454 other deaths related to the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths due to the epidemic to 75,024, which is one of the worst in Europe.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday that the stricter lockdown restrictions in England are likely to be in the coming weeks as the country moves on from the coronavirus that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels.
Johnson insisted, however, that he “had no doubt” that schools were safe and urged parents to return their children to classrooms on Monday in areas of England where schools plan to reopen. Unions representing teachers have called on schools to switch to distance learning for at least an additional two weeks due to the variable, which officials said is up to 70% contagious.
Johnson told the BBC: “We are fully prepared to do what is necessary to control the virus, and this may include more stringent measures in the coming weeks.”
Johnson acknowledged that school closures, curfews and a total ban on domestic mixing could be on the agenda for areas under the most pressure.
London and southeast England are facing extremely high levels of new infections and there is speculation that restrictions there should be tightened. In some areas in the region, there are more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus infection per 100,000 people.
The Johnson Conservative government is using a staggered system of coronavirus restrictions in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. Most of England is already in the highest level of Level 4, which includes closing non-essential stores, gyms, entertainment centers and going to home education.