UK vaccine roll-out looking good - we can't all be injected at once!

Audrey Webb getting her covid 19 vaccination

Audrey Webb was one of the first to get a Covid vaccine at the Constable Country Medical Practice. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

I've not been over-impressed by the way the British government has handled the Covid crisis over the last year - but right now, it's time to give credit where it's due.

Far too often, the UK has appeared to be behind the curve when it comes to dealing with coronavirus. While an optimistic outlook on life might be good in many situations, when you're prime minister during a pandemic it's not a great character trait.

Time after time, the country has been late in taking the action that was needed. Every lockdown started too late. Those delays cost lives.

The lack of PPE during the first wave and the sometimes haphazard approach to getting DIY solutions to this really did give the impression that the government was flying by the seat of its pants.

But as the vaccination programme starts to be rolled out across the country, it is fair to say that on this the government does seem to be doing very well - and much better than almost all other large countries.

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To have given more than 4m doses of vaccine, from a standing start, within a month is very impressive and something I did not believe was possible before Christmas.

There have been glitches - and the manufacturers of the vaccine haven't always managed to get it out at a constant rate every day, causing delays at some  centres.

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Yes, fewer people were getting injected this week than there were at the end of last week - but it's been well reported that manufacturers have been tweaking their process to speed them up and this increased supply should be coming through within a few days. 

There are promising signs that injections will be completed ahead of the original schedule.

What is the alternative to having occasional supply issues? Wait until all the vaccine needed for the whole country is made before starting the roll-out? That way we'd probably start vaccinations in June!

I know there have been complaints from some communities that people in their 80s haven't had injections while 10 miles up the road some people in their 70s are being jabbed - but I'm sorry, I just don't find that criticism justified.

In a hugely ambitious programme like this involving tens of millions of people, it was never going to be possible to inject everyone on the same day - so someone was always going to get it first.

And some surgeries were always going to get it before others - but if there's only a day or two between them, does that really matter in the huge scheme of things?

As for those who were complaining about younger people getting an injection, what did they want to happen? As I understand it, at the end of the day a small number of doses of the Pfizer vaccine were left over after all the 80+ people down to get it in one town had been injected.

The Pfizer vaccine is great - but it has a very limited shelf-life once taken out of a deep freeze, and it cannot be re-frozen. What should the doctors have done? Thrown it away? Or find a small number of people who would probably be getting it later this month anyway who live nearby? 

Pfizer vaccine

The Pfizer vaccine has a very short shelf-life after it has been removed from a very deep freeze. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

I understand emotions are running high among people who see vaccination as a road back to normality, but surely any reasonable person would feel that the clinicians who did inject some younger people were doing exactly the right thing!

By the end of last week nearly 6.5% of the UK population had had an injection, remember that is just two weeks after the mass-vaccination programme began. That is more twice the proportion of the next European country, Denmark, where just under 3% had had a jab.

Germany, France and Italy have much smaller proportions of their populations who have been inoculated. Any reasonable person has to be prepared to give the UK government, its doctors and health officials some credit for that . . . especially after all the disasters we've seen from them in the earlier days of the pandemic.

After the good start, I'm hopeful - but not over-confident - that as a 61-year-old I should be vaccinated before Easter. Once my cohort is reached, I really hope we are starting to see some easing of the lockdown restrictions.

At last the government is talking a sensible talk on this - not suggesting we're in for a "big-bang" relaxation, but the chance to go shopping or meet a friend for a coffee would be very welcome.

The effects of the vaccine haven't yet shown through in the figures but hopefully we will see a reduction in the pressure on hospitals next month and a fall in the rate of deaths soon after.

And by that time, whether a 75-year-old down the road got an injection a week before an 85-year-old in the next town will seem very trivial!

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