Words by Grace Raines
Since the first COVID-19 vaccine was delivered in the UK on 8 December, over 5 million initial doses of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs have been administered.
Citizens who have received their first dosage will be offered a follow-up jab within 12 weeks to complete their inoculation course.
Currently, the government is prioritising vaccinations within groups deemed most vulnerable, such as older residents of care homes, care home workers, those aged 70 or above, frontline workers like NHS staff, and those seen as clinically extremely vulnerable over the age of 16.
Rates of vaccination differ between the nations. 6.55% of England’s population is currently vaccinated, whilst Wales has 5.14%, Scotland has 5.21%, and Northern Ireland leads with 7.02% vaccinated so far.
Government officials originally estimated 15 million initial vaccines would be administered to at-risk groups by 15 February. This figure has since been amended to reflect now that 13.9 million individuals will be offered the initial vaccine, thus accounting for those who do not wish to receive the jab in these groups.
So far, around 270,000 initial vaccines are being administered per day. The current rate however suggests the target of 13.9 million doses by 15 February is not expected to be met.
Whilst early polls revealed 76% of British citizens were likely to receive the vaccine if offered, medical professionals are becoming increasingly worried about the lack of uptake within BAME patients eligible for the vaccine. It was found in one survey that only 57% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) respondents would agree to the vaccination, as opposed to the 79% of White respondents who claimed to be likely to accept the same jab.
Professionals are suggesting one reason for the discrepancy within these figures is due to a reported increase in misinformation spread about the vaccine within communities through social media posts, and the forwarding of these messages on instant messaging services such as WhatsApp are deterring eligible individuals.
Current plans for the vaccine roll-out state that the most at-risk groups will be offered their initial jab by 15 February, and that between the end of February and throughout the month of April, remaining priority groups will be offered their first dosage.
The final priority groups include those aged 50 to 69, and individuals with underlying health conditions between the ages of 16 and 64.
The rest of the UK’s adult population are expected to be offered their first vaccine doses by Autumn 2021, however this is subject to change as rates of uptake are evaluated, and plans to offer jabs to the entire population are reconsidered.
As the majority of students fall within the last group, those attending institutions of further and higher education can anticipate waiting several months before being offered their initial dose of the vaccine. This will likely coincide with the commencement of the 2021/2022 academic year.
So far, COVID-19 vaccines are only being offered to those aged 16 and above, as trials of usage and effectiveness within younger populations have not yet been thoroughly conducted.
Matt Hancock, the UK’s health secretary, has said that although children are able to catch, carry, and transmit COVID-19, they are far less likely to be badly affected by the virus as opposed to individuals more at risk, such as the elderly or clinically vulnerable. Therefore, efforts will focus on vaccinating those more susceptible to the illness before they are concentrated on offering vital doses to the younger population.
Each dose of the COVID-19 vaccines are valuable, as limited supplies are accessible within the UK. Yorkshire and North East counties are allegedly sending supplies to other areas of England, as populations with higher numbers still requiring jabs are deemed priority locations.
Adverse weather conditions in North Wales have also been causing issues regarding vaccination, as a key vaccination production factory, where 300 million doses are scheduled to be created, was in serious danger of flooding earlier this month. It is reported that all measures have now been taken to prevent this and avoid further disruption to production.
COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be offered to citizens in order of population vulnerability, and are available to be administered at local hospitals, dedicated vaccination sites, and local community locations such as GP surgeries and pharmacies.
Although rates of injection are promising, these need to be maintained, if not improved, to ensure the timely administering of jabs to the entire population by the autumn months of 2021.
Picture Credit: Imperial College London