London: The first 50 National Health Service hospitals are gearing up for what the UK government has described as the “biggest immunisation programme in history” as the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at “secure locations” from neighbouring Belgium this weekend.
Frontline healthcare staff, people over the age of 80 and care home workers will be among the first to get the vaccine as part of Phase 1 of the programme from Tuesday.
Some media reports indicate that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, are likely to be among this group. They would reveal they have been given the inoculation "to encourage more people to take up the vital jab", amid fears that so-called anti-vaxxers have stoked.
The vaccine is typically delivered by a simple injection in the shoulder but there is a complex and difficult logistical challenge to deliver from the manufacturers Pfizer to patients.
It needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used.
Defrosting the vaccine takes a few hours and then additional time is required to prepare the vaccine for administering.
Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be available in the UK from next week. In all, the government has ordered a total of 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate 20 million people, with two shots each, 21 days apart.