The United Kingdom became the first country to distribute a coronavirus vaccine that has been shown to work in large-scale studies, The New York Times reports.
Selected hospitals around Britain rolled out the first batches of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, which have to be stored at incredibly low temperatures.
The country has launched temporary clinics to vaccinate millions as quickly as possible and retired health workers have been asked to assist with the effort.
The National Health Service is also recruiting tens of thousands of first aid workers to help administer the vaccines.
“I think all people who can help should put their hands up,” Sarah Wollaston, a member of Parliament and former doctor, told the Times. “Physically, giving someone a vaccine is very straightforward. The challenge is the logistics.”
Worries over organized crime:
The rollout means that law enforcement is on alert in monitoring potential threats.
“It is the most valuable asset on earth right now,” Lisa Forte, a former British counterintelligence employee, told the Times. “Naturally, this will attract highly skilled cybercriminals, criminal groups and state actors.”
Europol has warned that organized crime groups could target shipments of vaccines and Interpol warned of an “onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine,” describing it as “liquid gold.”
Supply chain questions:
The vaccine has also raised supply chain concerns because it has to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.
“With the vaccine, the two biggest risks are maintaining the cold chain and interception by public or private actors,” Sarah Rathke, an attorney at Squire Patton Boggs, told the Times. “It may be the most difficult supply chain challenge posed in recent history, with not a lot of time to prepare for it.”
The UK has also had a spotty track record on handling the pandemic. Its hospitals lacked basic protective equipment early in the pandemic and the government has since struggled to roll out a contact tracing system despite sinking billions into the effort.
Pfizer may also be forced to cut the number of available doses this year because of supply shortages.
“It is not going to be without problems because of its scale and the logistics — I would be amazed if, in six months something, somewhere, didn’t go wrong,” Helen Buckingham, director of strategy and operations at the Nuffield Trust, a research institute specializing in health, told the Times. But “overall people are putting a lot of effort into making this work.”