On Tuesday – “V-day” – Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother from Coventry, became the first person in the world to receive a fully tested and approved Covid vaccine. Hours later, the residents and staff of an elderly care home in Belfast also received the Pfizer/ BioNTech jab.
In England, around 50 NHS hospitals were ready to start vaccinating at-risk groups this week; from next week, jabs will be administered at GP hubs, and with four million doses of the vaccine due to arrive by the end of December, vaccination centres will open in large venues such as sports stadiums in the new year. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, hailed “the start of the fightback against our common enemy”, but warned that the process would take time. He was criticised last week for claiming that Brexit had enabled the UK to become the first country to approve the Pfizer vaccine. European regulators criticised the UK process: they said their own was more thorough. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, also implied that Britain had cut corners, but later apologised and rowed back For much of 2020, Britain has “been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons”, said The Times. But at last we’re drawing global attention for something positive.
The UK can feel justly proud that we’re leading the way in the West on Covid vaccinations. It’s a testament to the expertise of our medical regulators and their speedy evaluation of trial data. Few will begrudge Hancock his “emotional” – even tearful – reaction to the launch of the inoculation programme, although it’s a shame he had to drag Brexit into it. This wasn’t a moment for “political pointscoring”, agreed The Guardian.
The UK’s early approval of the Pfizer vaccine had nothing to do with Brexit. We made use of a fast-track process that was available to all EU member states. “Besides, ministers would do well to postpone glory-seeking until they have proved themselves capable of organising” the vaccination programme. The Government’s record on logistics doesn’t inspire confidence, said The Independent. The vaccine needs to be kept at -70°C, making it very hard to store and move. The fact that ministers are lining up RAF planes to bring future doses of the drug from Belgium in the event of Brexit disruption is “indicative of the chaos that could be on the horizon”.