UK begins Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination as spike prompts new curbs

An 82-year-old dialysis patient was the first person to receive the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted that stricter measures will be needed to control continuing spikes in new daily cases.

For the sixth consecutive day, the UK recorded over 50,000 new cases, prompting new calls for another lockdown by opposition Labour, and health authorities reconsidering the current four-tier alert system that is increasingly assessed as being unable to control the numbers.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called the beginning of the Oxford vaccination programme a “pivotal moment”. There are currently over 500,000 doses of the vaccine available, with millions expected soon of the 100 million ordered by the Johnson government.

Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, was among the first to receive the vaccine in Churchill Hospital, Oxford.

Brian Pinker, who has been having dialysis in the hospital, was the first to receive it, and said he was “really proud” of the vaccine developed in Oxford.

Seeing “tough, tough” weeks ahead, Johnson said: “What we have been waiting for is to see the impact of the tier four measures on the virus and it is a bit unclear, still, at the moment. But if you look at the numbers, there is no question that we are going to have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course.”

Most of England is currently in Tier 4 with the toughest restrictions, but new cases have continued to surge in various areas, including London and south-east England. Hancock admitted that the “old tier system” was “no longer strong enough” to contain the virus.

There are also concerns over the new variant detected in South Africa. Hancock said he was “incredibly worried” about it, adding that “this is a very, very significant problem…We have shown that we are prepared to move incredibly quickly, within 24 hours if we think that is necessary, and we keep these things under review all the time”.

John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford, the university, said the effectiveness of the Oxford vaccine against the South African variant is currently being studied, adding that it was “unlikely” that the variant would “turn off the effect of vaccines entirely.”

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