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Early decisions made the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout a success

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Professor Anthony Harnden

Deputy Chair, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)

Throughout the pandemic, the aim has been to prioritise those who are more likely to have severe effects and die from COVID-19, to protect individuals and ease the burden on the NHS.

Early on, the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) considered a number of different approaches for the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. These included strategies to interrupt transmission of the virus and strategies to provide direct protection to those most at risk.

The evidence was clear that the older you are, the greater your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. Even when other factors were considered, age remained the key factor that determined each person’s level of risk.

Prioritisation is based on saving lives

The JCVI believed we could significantly reduce the number of deaths and hospitalisations by vaccinating the oldest first. Therefore, phase 1 targeted the over-50s, frontline health and social care workers – who are a critical part in the fight against COVID-19 – and those with underlying health conditions. It is estimated that vaccinating everyone in these cohorts would prevent around 99% of deaths from COVID-19. The second phase continued down the age groups.

This simple age-based approach was operationally easy to deliver and critical for rapid deployment and high vaccine uptake.

Life-saving strategy made possible by the NHS

The success of these decisions can be seen in the staggering pace and scale of the UK’s rollout. In early December, the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered. Since then, over 40 million adults in the UK have received their first dose and over 30 million have now received their second dose.

For this, I give my thanks to our brilliant primary care and NHS colleagues in delivering the programme – as well as the public health experts, who have worked tirelessly to deliver the vaccines up and down the country and have analysed vital data on vaccine effectiveness to inform our roadmap back to normal life.

These achievements are remarkable. The UK’s vaccine programme has led the way in vaccine deployment strategy and many countries have followed our approach. It is incredibly important that we do not lose momentum now and accept both doses of the vaccine when offered – this is the best way out of the pandemic and back to freedom.

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