Published: 16:20, 03 December 2020
| Updated: 16:43, 03 December 2020
The first doses of the approved Covid-19 vaccine are due to arrive in the country today, via Folkestone.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, confirmed the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech - which was approved by regulators yesterday - will hit British shores in “hours, not days”.
The vaccine is believed to be arriving in unmarked lorries from Belgium via the Channel Tunnel.
It will be stored until they are sent to 50 waiting hospitals around the country, ready for the first vaccinations next week.
The UK became the first country in the world to give the go-ahead to the vaccine and has ordered 40 million doses of the jab, enough to vaccinate 20 million people with two doses, given 21 days apart.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 800,000 doses of the jab will arrive next week, while BioNTech chief commercial officer Sean Marett confirmed the UK is likely to receive at least five million doses by the end of the year.
This is only half of its initial 2020 order due to a production scaleback.
Issues surrounding storage temperature - minus 70C - and how many times it can be transported have prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to warn of 'immense logistical challenges' in the Pfizer rollout, with experts warning that people in care homes might face a delay in receiving immunisation from the disease.
This is because the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has yet to approve that the vaccine boxes containing 975 doses can be split up, meaning it would be wasted if sent to individual residential homes.
This is despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises ministers, recommending care home residents and staff should be the top priority.
Liam Smeeth, a non-executive director of the MHRA, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that splitting the boxes was “being considered” by the regulator but “whatever they do, they will stick to keeping it safe and effective”.
Eventually vaccination centres will be set up across the country, and it is planned that GPs will administer the vaccine.
It is hoped that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, if approved by the regulator, will allow for easier administration on a mass scale as it can be stored at normal fridge-like temperatures.
Kent still has some of the highest infection rates in the country, including Swale, Medway and Thanet.