The world will keep an eye on the United Kingdom, which this week is preparing to be the first country in Western Europe to start the process of vaccinating the population against covid-19. A combination of factors is causing concern about the approach of a “perfect storm” that brings together “Brexit”, the pressure of the flu and security risks.
The first doses of the vaccine, which received authorization for emergency use last week, are intended from Tuesday on to health professionals involved in the treatment of patients with covid-19, home workers and people over 80 years.
Preparations for the distribution of the vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech – which were also acquired by the Portuguese State – involve very tight security, unprecedented logistics and a solid response from NHS, the British national health service. And yet, there are many aspects that threaten the success of the enterprise.
In June 2016, when the British voted mostly in favor of leaving the European Union, there were many warnings by opponents of the “Brexit” for what would mean a British abandonment of the European bloc. But it is fair to say that no one predicted that a pandemic would follow at that time.
With the stalemate between London and Brussels dragging on, the probability of not having an economic and political partnership agreement between the two blocs starting in 2021 increases. In this scenario, the rules of the World Trade Organization come into force and many fear the effects that the return of border controls may have on transport. This reality would be challenging in normal times, but associated with a huge effort to distribute vaccines it is possible that it will be a colossal task.
“There will be delays at the borders and it will take some time before the EU and the UK get used to trade with the new system, and it is possible that the imported equipment needed to fight the pandemic will be picked up on that,” he told the Guardian the researcher at the Center for European Reform, Sam Lowe.
The authorities are confident that the outcome of the negotiations between the EU and the UK will have no impact on the distribution of the vaccine from the end of the year. “We trained, we are prepared, we are fully prepared for any outcome,” said the president of MHRA, the drug regulation agency, June Raine, on the BBC.
One of the alternatives studied by the British Government is the use of military air transport to deliver millions of doses of vaccines from the Belgian Pfizer factory to the United Kingdom, in order to avoid potential problems at the land border.
The decision, says the newspaper The Guardian, shows that the Government is prepared for there to be disruptions in the flow at commercial ports and airports as of December 31, whether or not there is an agreement with the European Union.
Last week, the British Army carried out a kind of general rehearsal to test the transport capacity of the vaccines to one of the centers prepared to receive them, which it called “Operation Panacea”. Various scenarios have been tested, including situations of adverse reactions by patients to the vaccine, says the newspaper The Sun.
The test was carried out at the Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol, which will be one of seven major regional centers where thousands of people will be vaccinated in the coming months daily.
All planning may prove to be insufficient in a scenario of great pressure on the NHS which, according to the Guardian, even before the pandemic, it said it needed one hundred thousand professionals. Experts fear the effects of a resurgence in the number of infections in January, after the festive period.
“Clearly the perfect storm would be a combination of a third wave at the end of January, perhaps due to the less severe rules during Christmas, a wave of flu, and the huge accumulation of treatments that were postponed in the first phase. And still have to have the vaccination at the same time ”, he tells the Observer the executive director of the NHS Providers (a body that bridges the gap between the government and health facilities), Chris Hopson.
Showing that the unforeseen will be more than many, one of the initial plans of the vaccination program – the priority given to users and home workers – has already had to undergo adjustments, according to the The country. The problem is related to the size of storage containers at minus 70 degrees, which have a capacity of up to 975 units, but whose transport to homes with a few dozen people may end up leaving several doses unusable. The Government of Wales has already assumed that it will not be able to distribute vaccines in homes at this stage.
A latent problem, but one that also undermines the whole vaccination effort, is the high number of Britons who show resistance to being vaccinated. In a survey of the Observer, 35% of respondents said it was unlikely to be vaccinated.
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