Covid-19 vaccination programme could take a year at best, experts warn

It would take almost a year to vaccinate the entire UK population against Covid-19, even with no interruptions in vaccine supply, leading scientists have said.
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Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, said the rapid development of vaccines in response to the Covid-19 pandemic was a “remarkable achievement”.

But together with Professor Tim Cook, a consultant in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine from the University of Bristol, Sir Jeremy warned there was still a long way to go.

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The first of the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine are starting to be delivered in communities.The first of the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine are starting to be delivered in communities.
The first of the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine are starting to be delivered in communities.

Writing in the journal Anaesthesia, they said: “The scale of the vaccination programme should not be underestimated: 1,000 vaccination centres each vaccinating 500 people a day for five days a week, without interruptions of supply or delivery, would take almost a year to provide two doses to the UK population.

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“No country has mounted a whole population vaccination campaign in living memory and it will need to be undertaken with local leadership and cultural sensitivity.”

It is estimated that about 20% of the UK population may decline the vaccine, but the authors say if 80% of people have the jab “there would finally be the prospect of a degree of population (herd) immunity”.

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This would “reduce virus transmission in the community to very low levels and protect both those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

“In contrast to population immunity following natural infection, this would be achieved without the cost of an estimated half a million UK deaths.”

The authors said it may be that early vaccines work on preventing serious illness or coronavirus taking hold in an individual, rather than preventing people passing the virus on.

They also say from pre-clinical studies, it is possible the first vaccines, likely to be released in late 2020, may be more effective in preventing disease progression and hospitalisation and less effective in preventing transmission.

They said gathering ongoing data will mean that “improved second and third generation vaccines may be available later in 2021 and beyond” but say vaccines will not be “a final solution to Covid-19”.

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