LONDON (AFP) – An 82-year-old man yesterday became the first person in the world to receive AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s new COVID-19 jab outside a clinical trial, raising hopes the fight against a resurgent virus will accelerate.
Brian Pinker, a retired maintenance manager from Oxford in south central England, received the jab at the city’s Churchill Hospital, the National Health Service said.
Sam Foster, chief nursing officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, administered the jab wearing protective equipment in front of the media.
“He was great. He was raring to go. He had no hesitation and he said he didn’t feel a thing after his vaccine. A great patient and a great advocate for this vaccine,” she said.
Pinker, who has been having dialysis for kidney disease, said, “The vaccine means everything to me. To my mind it’s the only way of getting back to a bit of normal life.”
Britain – one of the worst-affected countries by the global health crisis, with over 75,000 deaths – is pinning its hopes on the jab as the mainstay of its mass vaccination drive.
Some 530,000 doses are to be administered at new vaccination sites across the country, adding to those already giving the Pfizer-BioNTech jab since early last month.
The new vaccine brings hope as a new variant of the virus has caused a surge in cases in England, putting pressure on hospital beds, and prompting calls for tougher restrictions.
There were 54,990 new cases on Sunday and hospitalisations rose almost 20 per cent last week. Overall, Britain has now had more than 2.6 million confirmed cases.
The government has responded by putting three-quarters of England’s population in the harshest tier of anti-virus restrictions. The public has been advised to stay at home, and non-essential shops have been shut, along with restaurants and other hospitality and entertainment venues.
But ministers are facing pressure to delay the return of schools after the holiday because of the rise in cases.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday said he was “fully reconciled” to having to introduce tougher restrictions in the next few weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC radio yesterday, “I hope we will get through this difficult time in the next few weeks and months.
“The chances of us being able to do that have significantly accelerated today because we’ve been able to be the first country in the world to inject this new AstraZeneca vaccine into people’s arms.”
Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group that developed the vaccine, was among the first to receive it yesterday.
The United Kingdom (UK) has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which Pollard has said could transform the world’s fight against the outbreak. It was created by scientists at the University of Oxford and developed, manufactured and distributed by UK-based pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca.
Britain became the first in the world to approve the use of a vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech on December 2, and has already given nearly one million people a first dose.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is far cheaper than its rivals, costing about GBP2.50 (USD3.40, EUR2.75) per dose, making it affordable for developing countries.
It can also kept in the fridge while Pfizer-BioNTech’s requires storage at ultra-low temperatures.
AstraZeneca has said it plans to increase production capacity globally to up to three billion doses this year.
India approved the vaccine on Sunday, following Argentina but the European Union (EU) regulator has said it is unlikely to approve the vaccine in January.
The UK has said it plans to administer vaccine in two doses with an interval of four to 12 weeks. Priority is being given to the elderly and clinically vulnerable.