Gavin Grey: UK's mass vaccination programme appears to be working

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Article by CNN:
Last May, Steve Bates' phone rang. The UK was in the midst of its first national lockdown -- there was a stay-at-home order, schools and most shops were closed, and experts were warning that a vaccine could still be years out.
At the other end of the line was an old friend, Kate Bingham, a pharmaceutical investor who had just agreed to lead the UK's Vaccine Taskforce, a team of private sector experts assembled to secure vaccine doses for the British public. She wanted him to join.
"She wanted my contacts. She knew that I knew everybody in the industry," Bates, a lobbyist who heads the UK BioIndustry Association, told CNN. "Kate Bingham said to me, 'we've never made a vaccine that's worked against a human coronavirus. This is a long shot.'"
Compelled by a sense of national duty in a time of crisis, Bates agreed to put his day job on hold. The position was unpaid.
By that time, the British government had one of the highest national death tolls globally, having dragged its feet to impose lockdown restrictions, shown reluctance to enforce rules and following futile attempts to track and trace the spread of the virus. Its border was also still wide open, and the government was throwing money at a rotating cast of private sector consultants to secure basic personal protective equipment (PPE) -- an effort that appeared more successful at generating controversy than securing supplies.
But the government's foresight in backing coronavirus vaccines has turned into one of the most surprising success stories of the pandemic.
Despite its widely criticized pandemic response, which has led to more than 117,000 deaths and more than 4 million coronavirus cases to date, the UK has now administered 15 million coronavirus vaccine doses -- a target set by the government to reach everyone in its top four priority groups by February 15. The groups include everyone over 70, frontline health and social care workers, those living in care homes and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
This total is more than Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland and Belgium combined. The UK has the third highest vaccination rate behind Israel and the UAE.
Nadhim Zahawi, the UK's minister for Covid-19 vaccine deployment, confirmed the goal had been accomplished a day early in a post on Twitter Sunday. "We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase 1," Zahawi wrote, referring to the priority groups set out by the government.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrated the moment, calling it a "significant milestone" and an "extraordinary feat."
"In England I can now tell you we have now offered jabs to everyone in the first four priority groups, the people most likely to be severely ill from Coronavirus, hitting the first target we set ourselves," he wrote on Twitter.
The British government also plans to give a first dose to the remaining risk groups and adults over 50 by the end of April.
Across the country, soccer stadiums, horse racing tracks, cathedrals and mosques are being used as mass vaccination sites. And through the National Health Service (NHS), the government can reach almost every person in the country to schedule a vaccination appointment.
In the southern English town of Basingstoke, a working fire station is being used for vaccinations. To accommodate the program, engines have been moved outdoors, emergency deployment routes have been overhauled and a small army of soldiers, firefighters, volunteers and nurses have moved in.
"It feels like a wartime effort," says Mark Maffey, the NHS architect who led the transformation of the fire station and three other vaccination sites in the area.
Big bets on 'longshot' vaccines
The centralized NHS is key to getting shots in arms, but it was an early series of big pets on then-unproven vaccines that really vaulted the UK ahead of the global pack.
Cautious not to repeat its PPE-purchasing mistakes and unwilling to rely solely on public servants who lacked expertise in vaccine pr...

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