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U.K. to begin mass coronavirus vaccinations: Here’s how it will work

Click to play video 'U.K. becomes first country to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine' U.K. becomes first country to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine
WATCH: U.K. becomes first country to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine – Dec 2, 2020

Less than a week after becoming the first Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, the United Kingdom is gearing up to start distributing the first doses of Pfizer’s shot on Tuesday.

The roll-out of the vaccine, which requires two doses, three weeks apart, will likely be closely watched from around the world, as other countries, like Canada, are expecting to receive the first batch of the shots next week.

Read more: First coronavirus vaccine shots could be doled out in Canada next week

The first doses of the vaccine — developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech — are set to be administered in the U.K. starting Tuesday in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How will it work?

Delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is complicated because it needs to be stored at super-chilled temperatures: about -70 C. However, the vaccine is stable at normal refrigerator temperatures, between 2 and 8 C, for a few days, meaning it can be stored locally.

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After defrosting the vaccine, which takes a few hours, additional time is required to prepare it to be given in a shot.

Shipments of the first batches of the coronavirus vaccine were delivered Sunday from Belgium, where Pfizer’s manufacturing plant is, to the U.K. in super-cold containers.

Click to play video 'COVID-19 vaccination rollout plan in United Kingdom' COVID-19 vaccination rollout plan in United Kingdom
COVID-19 vaccination rollout plan in United Kingdom – Dec 5, 2020

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

According to health officials, each box containing the vaccines, which includes five packs of 975 doses, will need to be opened and unpacked manually at specially licensed sites. The shots also have to be checked by a specialist medical logistics company to ensure there was no damage in transit.

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Where will people get the vaccine?

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The COVID-19 vaccines will first be made available in the U.K. at hospitals.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told Sky News on Sunday that 50 hospital hubs across England had already received their allocation of the vaccine, and that the distribution was “really well underway now.”

Because the vaccine requires low-temperature storage, Codery said that currently, “only hospitals have the infrastructure and the facilities to be able to store it.”

This means that for the first while, people who are on the priority list  — vulnerable people like the elderly — will have to travel to the hospital to get inoculated.

Read more: All eyes on U.K. as it readies world’s 1st coronavirus vaccination roll-out

However, she added that the National Health Service (NHS) is working on a plan to distribute the coronavirus vaccines “closer” to long-term care homes so the elderly do not have to travel to get a shot.

On Dec. 14, doctors and other health-care centres are being put on standby to start giving the vaccine, according to the NHS. Groups of local doctors will operate more than 1,000 vaccination centres across the country, the government said.

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There are also plans for vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients in sports venues and conference centres and for local pharmacies to be able to offer the COVID-19 vaccine as they do with annual influenza shots.

Who gets it first?

The U.K. government said it plans to give the first doses of the vaccine to those most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

The NHS is giving top priority to vaccinating people over the age of 80, front-line health-care workers and care home staff and residents.

Patients aged 80 and over, who are already attending hospitals as outpatients and those being discharged after a stay in the hospital, will be among the first to receive the shot.

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Coronavirus: U.K.’s Johnson stresses global co-operation following approval of Pfizer vaccine – Dec 2, 2020

Hospitals will also start inviting people over the age of 80 for a shot and will work with nursing homes to book staff into vaccination clinics, according to U.K. health officials.

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Any appointments not taken up will be offered to those health workers deemed to be at the highest risk of COVID-19. Everyone who is vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.

All residents 75 and older will be vaccinated next, according to the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization.

This will then be followed by those age 70 and over and people deemed to be clinically “extremely vulnerable.”

Read more: Pfizer says final results show coronavirus vaccine is 95% effective, no safety concerns

During the first phase of the immunization program, Britain has created nine separate groups down to those aged 50 and above. Overall, it hopes that between 90 and 99 per cent of people most at risk of dying from COVID-19 will have been immunized during the first phase.

In total, Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. As each person requires two doses, that is enough to vaccinate 20 million people in the country of 67 million.

What about Canada’s plan?

Plans for Canada’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out still remain scarce, but on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a few more details.

Speaking at a media conference, Trudeau announced that Canada has secured an agreement to receive its first batch of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by mid-December.

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Pending approval from Health Canada, Trudeau said the first shipment of doses is “tracking for delivery next week” and that shipments will continue to arrive in 2021. Approval of the vaccine is expected this week, officials also confirmed.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Trudeau announces deal securing early delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine' Coronavirus: Trudeau announces deal securing early delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
Coronavirus: Trudeau announces deal securing early delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – Dec 7, 2020

He also said some Canadians will be getting vaccinated starting next week, again pending regulatory approval. Canada is expecting to receive 249,000 doses by year’s end, with more expected in the new year.

In terms of distribution, Trudeau explained that the Pfizer vaccine will initially be rolled out in 14 different sites across the country, with one to two locations in each province.

“This is to be able to initially get doses out to the most vulnerable people, but also to demonstrate and to operationalize what is going to be an incredibly complex mobilization of vaccines across the country. It is a gradual process that is going to begin… next week,” Trudeau said.

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— With files from The Associated Press