Following its highest single day death total due to COVID-19, vaccination programs are the UK’s only hope

On the heels of the highest single-day death total in the UK, the need for speed in the mass vaccination program against COVID-19 has become paramount. Programs have already started in the UK, aiming to both stop the rampant spread of the outbreak as well as pull the country out of a third national lockdown, with the UK hoping to have the highest-risk populations vaccinated by the end of spring. Based on the current state of control of the outbreak, these programs may be the nation’s only hope to resolve this dire situation.

Arafa Salam, PhD, Infectious Diseases Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view:

“On December 2 the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) granted emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, with the UK being the first to vaccinate someone for COVID-19 outside of a trial setting. Shortly after the approval, the UK went under a third national lockdown and the country also reported a new variant of the virus, seemingly more contagious than the original variant, making the approval of the vaccine all the timelier.

“To further help stem the tide of the outbreak, on 30 December the MHRA also approved the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, AZD1222, and on 8 January approved Moderna’s vaccine, mRNA-1273. Both the Pfizer/BioNtech and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine doses are to be given 12 weeks apart, a notable departure from the regular scheme of doses being 3-4 weeks apart. However, even with the introduction of the mass vaccination program, on 13 January, the UK reported a record high of 1,564 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, the biggest figure reported in a single day in the UK since the pandemic began, bringing total deaths to more than 84,000. The ever-increasing number of deaths and new cases means that the race to vaccinate as many individuals as possible with the three vaccines is more crucial now than ever.

“Although the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine was approved and launched first, the -80 degrees Celsius temperature it needs to be stored at may pose too big a challenge for some clinics and general practitioners compared to the 2-8 degrees Celsius storage requirement for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. In addition, the cost of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is far cheaper per dose, at around £3 compared to £15 per dose for the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, meaning that the latter could cost UK taxpayers £600 million, which is ten times more than the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. Therefore, although both vaccines are already rolled out into the NHS, the UK may ultimately favor the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine due to the cost and storage temperatures. Although Moderna’s vaccine has also been approved, it is still early in the launching phase and as the vaccine has the same mechanism of action as the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, the latter may still be favored in the UK as it was approved earlier with many more doses available.

“The three vaccines represent hope for the nationwide vaccination program to resolve the outbreak and may prevent the UK from breaking single-day death records again.”

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