Gamechanger - How has the COVID-19 vaccine been developed and rolled out so quickly?
Under normal circumstances, making a vaccine can take between 10 and 15 years due to the complexity of vaccine development. However, as the global pandemic took hold in the Spring 2020, time was a luxury the world could not afford. This “landing on the moon moment,” (*Dr. Yager) has ushered in a new era of vaccine research and within 11 months of the first cases of COVID-19 we are now embarking on the biggest vaccination programme the NHS has ever undertaken.
Once Chinese scientists had shared the genetic code, about 10 days after the first reported case in Wuhan, scientists all over the world began collaborating to fast-track their research and clinical trials. Funding has played a large part. Public and private money on a scale never seen have been poured into the vaccine race playing a large part in their speedy delivery.
Already by April, Oxford University researchers were ready to start clinical trials of their vaccine with more than 1000 vaccinations. The next two phases of the trials were to include over 10,000 volunteers.
The development of the Oxford vaccine was helped by the University of Oxford’s earlier efforts to create a vaccine against MERS, which gave them the experimental experience and head start on developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
On 2 December 2020 the UK became the first country in the world to approve any of the COVID vaccines, triggering one of the largest civilian logistical operations launched in the UK. The first vaccine was given on 8 December and is now in full flow.
How is the UK going to jab millions of people?
The NHS is well-used to delivering millions of vaccines a year and is moving quickly to roll out this vaccine to those who need it, but it’s important to remember that it won’t be a quick process.
The government is currently offering vaccines to 15 million people in four priority groups:
- Over 80s & frontline health and social care workers
- Care home residents
- Those aged 75-79
- Those aged 70-74
The NHS needs to administer about 380,000 vaccine doses each day if it is to reach everyone in these groups by the middle of February. As of today, 27 January, 6.8m (13% of the adult population) people have been vaccinated.
Following these groups will be millions more of the over-50s and other priority groups by the spring. They are thought to represent 90-99% of those at risk of dying from COVID-19.
By the autumn, the rest of the adult population, another 21 million people, will be offered a vaccine.
Dozens of NHS trusts are acting as hospital hubs where the vaccine can be stored safely and where many in the top priority groups – including NHS staff – have been able to get vaccinated on site.
In England there are about 1,000 GP sites, 200 community pharmacies, 206 hospital hubs, 17 mass vaccination sites offering services as well as mobile teams who have started delivering it in care homes and thousands of people have been trained to deliver the vaccines, with thousands more set to join the effort.
We are delighted to be involved in our own little way in this huge vaccine programme, helping GP practices to install an online rota management system so staff & volunteers can book on to shifts at the COVID vaccination sites. It is great to see collaborative working at its best as we all work towards the same goal.
For further information on our online rota system please contact
*Dr. Eric J. Yager, an associate professor of microbiology at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, NY