The limited supply of the initial 800,000 doses will go to nursing home staff and people over age 80, as well as health and social care workers, according to the NHS website.
“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said in a statement released Sunday. “The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will be landing at hospitals by Monday in readiness.”
The first wave of immunizations will involve 50 hospitals, with more involved as the program ramps up, according to the statement. Pfizer’s vaccine involves a two-dose regimen, administered 21 days apart, and necessitates careful handling with its sub-freezing storage requirements at minus 70 degrees Celsius.
“This coming week will be an historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Powis said the distribution will be a “marathon not a sprint,” per the BBC, adding that widespread vaccination will require “many months.” The UK government ordered 40 million doses, which will be delivered through 2021, Pfizer previously announced.
The UK authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine last week, marking the first Western nation to do so, in a move criticized by many for moving too quickly. Some reports pointed to Brexit in helping the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) speed along the regulatory process. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had sparked controversy with an earlier interview in which he said U.K. regulators hadn’t acted “as carefully” as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Fauci said late Thursday that he meant to say U.S. authorities do things differently than their British counterparts, not better, but his comments weren’t phrased properly.
U.K. regulators then went on the offensive Friday to beat back criticism that they rushed their authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying they rigorously analyzed data on safety and effectiveness in the shortest time possible without compromising the thoroughness of their review.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.