UK approves coronavirus vaccine - who will get it first and what does the rollout mean for the South West?

A coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and the first doses are due to be given out next week.

The UK is the first country in the world to approve a Covid vaccine, with the regulator stressing "the most rigorous scientific assessment" was carried out before doing so.

The UK has enough doses to vaccinate 20 million people - but there are still challenges to overcome.

Here ITV News West Country's political correspondent David Wood looks at what those challenges are, who will be given the vaccine first, and what the news means for the West Country.

For months now the military metaphors have been exhausted to encourage all of us to battle on with the coronavirus restrictions and that there will be an end to this one day, but today is a significant step in the scientific cavalry riding to the West Country's rescue and expect ministers to use the phrase "scientific cavalry" a lot in the next few weeks.

Today the vaccine advisory body has approved a Covid-19 vaccine for use in the UK with the first people due to be vaccinated next week.

Today we are about to step onto the long road to freedom, with those in care homes and carers first in line along with front line NHS workers.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to complete trials and is the first to be passed for use in the UK.

How will the vaccine be rolled out?

There are logistical challenges with this jab, mainly that it needs to be stored at freezing temperatures far colder than in a normal freezer. That means this vaccine is more likely to be used in hospitals rather than mass vaccination sites that are being planned across the country, for example at Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol, so medics will be amongst the first to get the jab.

So far Downing Street has kept tight lipped about the logistics of rolling out vaccines in the coming months, especially because two other vaccines (which don't need to be stored at such cold temperatures) are currently being assessed by regulators to see if they can be rolled out too. However, I imagine we will start to hear more about the logistics this week.

However the first stage of the roll out is becoming clear. Initially 50 hospitals will act as 'hubs' around the country to administer the very first vaccines in the next few weeks and then in the new year as more doses arrive (and hopefully other vaccines are approved) GP surgeries and Pharmacies will start receiving the vaccine so they can administer it to patients, before larger conference centres and sport stadiums are taken over as mass vaccination stations for the general public.

The 50 hospital hubs include a number of hospital trusts in the West Country which are:

  • Dorset County Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

  • Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

  • Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Swindon

  • North Bristol NHS Foundation Trust 

  • Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust 

  • Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust United 

  • Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

It is not yet clear exactly how many of these trusts will get the first available vaccine next week, but certainly those that have the ability to store it safely (at -70 degrees - so the ones with a significant freezing capacity) will get it first.We have been warned by scientists and ministers alike that this is only the first step on the road to mass vaccination and that it will take time, but there is growing confidence that another vaccine may pass its regulatory approval next week and therefore by the start of January around two million people in the UK could have had their jabs.

Who will receive the vaccine first?

Ministers have set out the order in which people will receive vaccines starting with care homes and health workers, then over-80s and then down the age groups. It will also be offered to people of other ages who're most at risk either for health reasons, ethnicity or occupation.

How will the vaccine be administered?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses a couple of weeks apart so it will take time for even the first people to be vaccinated to develop immunity. For this reason we are all being told the best way to help with the vaccination programme is to adhere to all the coronavirus restrictions so that the NHS isn't overwhelmed and the vaccine rollout can be prioritised.

A lot of what we hear in the coming weeks will also be about how safe the vaccine is, it has been approved by the regulator using the standard tests and has had to meet the high standards of approvers.

MPs are hoping that whatever their opinion of the new tiers system of lockdowns that has come in today, that the vaccine roll out over the coming weeks and months will mean places move down the tiers quickly and freedom is coming.

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