NHS vaccine programme ‘turning point’ in battle against the pandemic

NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens has today praised the efforts of hardworking staff for making the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine possible, saying that the deployment marks a “decisive turning point” in the battle against the pandemic.

The NHS in England will begin the biggest and most highly anticipated immunisation campaign in history at 50 hospital hubs this week, with more starting vaccinations over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.

Since the Pfizer vaccine got the green light from regulators last week, health service staff have been working around the clock to manage the huge scale logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “Coronavirus is the greatest health challenge in NHS history, taking loved ones from us and disrupting every part of our lives.

“Hospitals have now cared for more than 190,000 seriously ill COVID-19 patients and have seen beds fill up again in recent weeks.

“The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic. NHS vaccination programmes which have successfully helped overcome tuberculosis, polio, and smallpox, now turn their focus to coronavirus.

“NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this COVID jab.”

People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab this week, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk.

Over the weekend, hospitals have begun inviting over 80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country.

“I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout.

“But mass vaccination will take time, and we must remain clear-eyed about the challenges that remain.

“As the programme ramps up in the weeks and months ahead, it is as important as ever to keep to the Covid Winter plan – following the rules in your area and remember the basics of hands, face and space.”

Hari Shukla, 87, from Tyne and Wear will become one of the first people in the world to get the Covid vaccine at hospital in Newcastle on Tuesday.

Hari said: “I’m so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help.”

“Having been in contact with the NHS, I know how hard they all work and the greatest respect for them – they have a heart of gold and I am grateful for everything they have to keep us safe during the pandemic.”

Any appointments not used for these most at-risk groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from covid. All those vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We will look back on today, V-day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme.

“With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations from today, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus. Now’s the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it’s time for your vaccination. Until then, protect yourselves and the NHS by continuing to follow local restrictions. We can see light at the end of the tunnel but still have a long way to go.

“As a UK government, we have ensured the four nations will have enough doses of the vaccine to protect those across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. I want to congratulate each health service for their contribution to this momentous occasion.”

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis has warned that the roll out of a vaccine will be a marathon not a sprint.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used.

GPs and other primary care staff have also been put on standby to start delivering the jab. A number of GP-led primary care networks will begin doing so next week with more practices in more parts of the country joining in on a phased basis during December.

Vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients in sporting venues and conference centres will subsequently stand up when further supplies of vaccine come on stream.

Background information

Being the first health system in the World to deliver a vaccine is the latest in a long line of “firsts” for the NHS, which has led the world in numerous innovations including:

  • 1948: The NHS was the world’s first universal health care system
  • 1949: First tuberculosis vaccine was routinely offered to nurses in 1949.
  • 1958: The NHS delivers first mass vaccination programme, with everyone under the age of 15 vaccinated against polio and diphtheria.
  • 1962: NHS Professor Sir John Charnley completes the first full hip replacement.
  • 1972: The world’s first CT scan on a patient was carried out at Atkinson Morley Hospital, in Wimbledon, now part of St George’s Hospital
  • 1978: The world’s first baby is born as a result of in vitro fertilisation (IVF)
  • 1987: The world’s first combined liver, heart and lung transplant is carried out at Cambridgeshire’s Papworth Hospital
  • 1988: The MMR vaccine first introduced in 1988. Before this there were between 160,000 to 800,000 measles cases a year – piloted in Somerset, Fife and North Herts.
  • 1999: The Meningitis C vaccine was first introduced in 1999, the UK was the first country in the world to offer the jab on a national level thanks to the NHS.
  • 2010: British pensioner Kenneth Crocker, 70, was the world’s first patient to have heart surgery using a fully remote-controlled robotic arm. The operation took place at the NHS’s Glenfield Hospital, Leicestershire.
  • 2016: Two NHS patients in England became some of the first in the world to benefit from pioneering hand and upper arm transplants.
  • 2019: World’s first gene therapy operation for common cause of sight loss carried out by researchers in Oxford last February.
  • 2020: NHS became the world’s first national health system to commit to become ‘carbon net zero’ in October this year.