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First Oxford Covid-19 vaccines arrive in hospitals ready for rollout
2 January 2021, 16:30 | Updated: 2 January 2021, 16:41
The first batches of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines have arrived at hospitals ready to be rolled out on Monday.
Some 530,000 doses of the newly-approved vaccine will be available across the UK from Monday, with vulnerable groups already identified as the priority for immunisation.
One of the first hospitals to take delivery of a batch on Saturday morning was the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Dr George Findlay, chief medical officer and deputy chief executive at the trust, said the vaccination programme gives NHS staff "more confidence" coming into work.
As it can be kept at normal fridge temperature, he said this vaccine is "much easier" to administer when compared with the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which needs cold storage of around minus 70C.
Rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab began almost a month ago, with more than a million people having already received their first coronavirus jab.
Second doses of either vaccine will now take place within 12 weeks rather than the 21 days that was initially planned with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, following a change in guidance which aims to accelerate immunisation.
Hundreds of people are expected to be vaccinated per day at the Princess Royal Hospital site, with efficiency expected to increase after the first few days of the programme, according to Dr Findlay.
"We've got a delivery hub set up in the grounds of this hospital, so we've got the infrastructure there to invite people in for booked appointments," he said.
"And we will make sure those booked appointments are full every day from Monday going forward."
The vital deliveries comes as the NHS comes under an unprecedented strain, as the number of patients in UK hospitals with Covid-19 passed the April peak.
Today also saw the highest ever number of new Covid-19 cases, with 57,725 cases reported in the last 24 hours.
This is the fifth day the figure has been above 50,000, although today's total includes cases not reported by Northern Ireland and Wales yesterday.
Sadly the death toll has also risen by a further 445 people, bringing the total number of people who have died within 28 days of being diagnosed with the virus to 74,570.
The nation was offered a glimmer of hope in the last month of 2020, as two vaccines were approved, but there have been warnings a vaccine shortage is likely to be a "reality" in the coming months.
Among those to be vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab from next week will be vulnerable NHS staff and social care workers who are at risk.
"We started vaccinating on our other hospital site a few weeks ago, it's been seen as a really positive step, something that gives staff more confidence to come to work," Dr Findlay said.
"You only have to look at the statistics over the last 10 months about how many staff have suffered illness, or sadly lost their lives.
"This gives staff the confidence to come to work to be able to look after patients."
Dr Findlay said the hospital has been under "quite a lot of pressure" since the start of December due to a rise in cases amid a new variant of the virus.
"And that's increased over the past few weeks as cases in the community increase, and then hospitalisations increase, and critical care requirements increase," he said.
"Staff are coping amazingly well, they are working incredibly hard, and we are increasing capacity to deal with the most sick patients.
"So whilst it's really difficult, and staff are under pressure, the hospitals are coping and we are still providing care to everybody who needs it."
He said the hospital had decreased planned care, with some routine operations postponed to enable staff to focus on the Covid-19 response.
On potential staff burnout, Dr Findlay said he worries about the physical and mental wellbeing of workers, calling it an "incredibly difficult year".
"We have gone through wave one, which was unknown and hugely pressured," he said.
"We then tried to focus on recovery, so deliver care to the patients that were postponed, and people worked really hard at that.
"And then we're straight into the next wave so nobody has had a break really for pretty much all year, so we are really worried about fatigue, stress, strain, and we're doing everything that we can to try and support our staff. But it's just always a worry."