UK gears up for huge vaccination plan watched by the world

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A pharmacy technician from Croydon Health Services prepares to store the first delivery of COVID-19 vaccine, with temperature at right reading minus 82, at Croydon University Hospital in Croydon, England, Saturday Dec. 5, 2020. The first batch of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is delivered to the area in preparation for a public inoculation program, with each person needing two injections and the vaccine stored at extremely low temperature.(Gareth Fuller/Pool via AP)

LONDON – Shipments of the coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech were delivered Sunday in the U.K. in super-cold containers, two days before it goes public in an immunization program that is being closely watched around the world.

Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine were expected to be in place for the start of the immunization program on Tuesday, a day that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed as “V-Day,” a nod to triumphs in World War II.

“To know that they are here, and we are amongst the first in the country to actually receive the vaccine and therefore the first in the world, is just amazing,” said Louise Coughlan, joint chief pharmacist at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, just south of London.

“I'm so proud," she said after the trust, which runs Croydon University Hospital, took delivery of the vaccine.

Last week, the U.K. became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around 95% efficacy. Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination rollouts the same day.

Governments and health agencies around the world will be monitoring the British vaccination program, which will take months, to note its successes and failures and adjust their own plans accordingly. The U.S. hopes to start vaccinations later this month. British regulatory authorities are also examining data on the vaccines from American biotechnology company Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford University.

Russia on Saturday began vaccinating thousands of doctors, teachers and others at dozens of centers in Moscow with its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which was approved over the summer after being tested in only a few dozen people.

The excitement in Britain, which has Europe's highest virus-related death toll at more than 61,000, was palpable.