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More than 17 million people have received their first Covid-19 vaccine in the UK

With that, the NHS takes the lead in Europe


by: Marta Rodriguez


The Covid-19 vaccination started its rollout in December 2020 and after two and a half months it is well underway. The successful rollout of the vaccine has now seen more than 17 million people getting the first jab in the United Kingdom with more vaccines to be administered in the following weeks. The successful administration of the vaccine means that the end of lockdown seems close, especially after both Scotland and England published their roadmap to ease restrictions last week. With good news looming on the horizon this article aims to take a closer look at the state of vaccination rollout so far.



Who has been vaccinated?


1.5 million people in Scotland have received the first jab with about 56 thousand having received the second. 15.7 million in England have received the first jab and half a million people have received the second. In Wales, about 890 thousand people have received the first dose and around 70 thousand have received the second dose. Lastly, Northern Ireland has given the first jab to about half a million people and the second to about 32 thousand people.


The vaccine rollout was divided into different stages with those at most risk of the virus being vaccinated first. This means that care home staff and residents, frontline health workers, and over-80s have all been given the first jab with some of them having already received the second. By mid-February, many other groups have been invited to receive the vaccine, including: clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, people aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, unpaid carers aged 16 to 64, and everyone aged 65 or over. These groups of people account for 88% of Covid-19 deaths.


According to the NHS ‘people with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers are a large group of people.’ As such, ‘[it} will take several weeks to get everyone in these groups vaccinated.’

This means that it might take some time until the vaccine can be administered to other lower-risk groups. However, with one in three adults already having been vaccinated Boris Johnson aims to have all adults in the UK offered a jab by the 31st of July.


Chart made by editor via chartle.com



Effectiveness


As more and more people get the vaccine it is impossible to miss the effectiveness of it. Data from England and Scotland suggests that the vaccine is already reducing hospitalisation and deaths. The UK health secretary has also said that there is early data that suggests that the vaccine is already reducing transmission.


After receiving the first dose, the vaccine is 57% effective in people over 80, however, that rises to more than 85% after the second dose. People over 80 are also about 40% less likely of being hospitalised and 56% less at risk of dying of Covid-19 upon being jabbed.


Healthcare workers under 65 have a 72% protection against the virus after the first jab and 85% after the second.

Currently children and pregnant women are being discouraged to get the vaccination as the effects in this group are currently unknown. However, as trials in children and pregnant women develop, they will give a better understanding of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in said groups of people.



How is the UK faring compared to other European countries?


The UK’s vaccine rollout has come a lot faster and successfully compared to its neighbours in the EU. This has been due to the additional protocols the vaccine has had to pass in the European Union. Professor Stephen Evans (former independent expert member of the drug safety and risk assessment committee at the European Medicines Agency) explained that for the vaccine to be rolled out in the European Union it had to not only be approved by the European Commission but also by the representatives of every member state. This means that what delayed the rollout of vaccines was an administrative process.


However, after fearing a monopolisation of vaccines by the US, Brussels started trying to secure more doses of the vaccine. They are now trying to catch up with both the UK and the US.


Currently the UK holds the lead of vaccines administered in Europe.

Violet Adams receives vaccine in P&J Live Aberdeen. Photo courtesy of NHS Grampian.



Nevertheless, the slow action of the EU has caused a shortage in vaccines, which is in turn delaying the vaccination schedule. The failure of securing enough of both the Astra Zeneca and the Pfizer vaccines has forced Hungary to use China’s Sinopharm vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V, which received an emergency approval. Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister, declared that it had been necessary in order to avoid a third wave of the virus.


Germany is also having trouble administering the vaccine as people do not want to be injected with the AstraZeneca vaccine amid fears that it is not safe.


On a more general level, there have been continuous problems with Pfizer vaccine shortages after the EU ordered too few of them. However, Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission, reassured that the situation with vaccines is getting better.


‘I understand very well the impatience that, now that the vaccine is available, citizens want to be vaccinated as quickly as possible and finally be protected.’ ‘We’re catching up. Britain has inoculated 17m first doses. There are 27m in the EU.’ She said.


Ms. Von der Leyen also assured that in Italy, a country with a similar population to that of the UK, twice as many people have received the second dose of the vaccine.

Spain is also on the lead with vaccine administration, though the methods of administering the vaccine have been questioned. The principle behind the vaccine states that as many people as possible should get the first jab as this will give them some protection, the second dose augmenting that protection.


Spain’s methods, however, are being criticised, because even though a larger percentage of people than in the UK have received the second dose, less people have received the first jab. Whilst the UK has administered the first dose to 25% of its population, only 3.5% has received the first dose in Spain, making it fall back significantly.



Proof of vaccination?


Although vaccination is not compulsory, talks are being had about vaccination proofs. As such, the UK is considering the implementation of a vaccination passport. At the moment, vaccinated people receive a vaccination card as well as having the jab recorded in their medical records.


German passport and proof of vaccination. Photo courtesy of Markus Winkler via Pixabay.



However, other methods are being considered for people to prove that they have been vaccinated and are at a lower risk of getting and transmitting Covid-19. The government has announced a review of whether a vaccination passport could help the economy recover. This passport, which could potentially be a feature added to the existing NHS app, would show proof of a negative Covid-19 test or a vaccine.


The review will consider a number of different things. Firstly it will examine whether a proof of a negative test or a vaccination could be used to reduce restrictions and as such allow people to participate in an event or a service. It will also consider privacy, ethical and moral issues which includes how far companies would be allowed to go when requesting a passport. Nonetheless, passports will be relevant only when everyone gets the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, which could not be until the end of 2021 - even in the UK.



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