Queen Elizabeth, 94, and Prince Philip, 99, are expected to be among the first to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, whose first consignment has arrived in the UK and is set to be administered first to those above the age of 80 from Tuesday.
Anti-vaccine claims on social media and elsewhere are among major obstacles faced by the UK’s health officials planning the biggest mass vaccination programme in the country’s history. Leading figures such as Queen Elizabeth taking the vaccine is expected to help overcome anxieties.
The initial batch received from Belgium has 800,000 doses. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 20mn people with two does, 21 days apart. It has also reached agreement for early access to over 300mn doses of other vaccines, when approved by regulators.
Reports in the British press on Sunday said Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip may “let it be known” that they have had the vaccine that would be initially rolled out in 50 hospitals that have facilities for freezing the consignment at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius.
Due to their age, the Queen and Prince Philip are in the first group identified for vaccination. Frontline health staff, people over the age of 80 and care home workers will be the first to get the vaccine that was approved by the UK’s regulator on December 2.
Terming Tuesday’s rollout of the vaccine as a “historic moment”, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I urge everybody to play their part to suppress this virus and follow the local restrictions to protect the National Health Service while they carry out this crucial work”.
Since the completion of the Brexit process on December 31 may lead to transport bottlenecks on the border, particularly if a deal is not agreed with the European Union by then, UK officials are considering deploying Air Force aircraft to bring the vaccine from Belgium from January 1.