The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and Astrazeneca have been delivered at Oxford’s Churchill hospital.
Brian Pinker, an 82 year old retired maintenance manager, was the first person in the world to receive the vaccine outside of clinical trials. Born and raised in Oxford, Mr Pinker received the vaccine at 7:30 am on Monday January 4th, five days after the vaccine was approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Mr Pinker is a dialysis patient, which puts him at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 according to NHS guidelines. Speaking after receiving the first dose, Mr Pinker told attending press: “The vaccine means everything to me. To my mind, it’s the only way of getting back to normal life.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the approval of the Oxford vaccine as “pivotal moment” in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19. Around 530,000 doses of the vaccine – which requires two doses to be administered between 4-12 weeks apart – will be made available across six hospital trusts in Oxford, Sussex, Lancashire, Warwickshire and London. Remaining doses will be made available to GP surgeries and care homes.
The Oxford vaccine is easier to distribute than the Pfizer vaccine because it can be stored at a higher temperature. Both vaccines introduce a segment of RNA from the SARS-CoV-2 virus into human cells. Cells then translate this genetic information to produce viral spike proteins, which trigger the patient’s immune system to produce complementary antibodies and activate specialised cells which combat the virus if the patient is exposed in the future. RNA is an unstable molecule which breaks down easily; the Pfizer vaccine has to be refrigerated at -70 °C to remain effective. The Oxford vaccine encases the RNA in a harmless chimpanzee adenovirus, which allows the vaccine to be stored at 2-8 °C in conventional fridges. This makes it easier to administer in care homes or regions of the world where refrigerating the Pfizer vaccine would be difficult.
Despite the rollout of the Oxford vaccine being haled as an important moment in the fight against COVID-19, some experts have cautioned the public against taking the virus less seriously. The Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty tweeted that “vaccines give us a route out in the medium term. The NHS is however under very considerable and rising pressure in the short term. We must all follow social distancing for now.” Professor Andrew Pollard of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who also received a dose of the vaccine on Monday, echoed Professor Whitty’s concerns: “It gives us a bit of hope, but I think we’ve got some tough weeks ahead.”
On the same day the first doses of the Oxford vaccine were administered, 58,784 new COVID-19 cases were recorded. This is the highest daily total since the pandemic began, and the seventh consecutive day over 50,000 people tested positive for the disease. 407 deaths were also recorded. 23,823 people with COVID-19 are currently in hospital across the United Kingdom, exceeding the number seen at the peak of the “first wave” in April.
The news also comes on the day that First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced that the country would go into a full lockdown from midnight on Monday January 4th. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation at 8pm, when he is expected to announce “further steps” to combat the spread of COVID-19.