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British Health Secretary Addresses Parliament as COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin

Dr Doreen Brown, 85, receives the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine jabs administered at Guy's Hospital in London, Dec. 8, 2020.

As Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign began Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament that "the start of the fight back against our common enemy, coronavirus," had begun, adding there is still "much work to be done."

A 90-year-old retired British shop clerk received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program in the unprecedented global immunization effort intended to offer a route out of a pandemic that currently has killed 1.5 million people.

Hancock said the vaccine has been initially rolled out in 70 hospitals equipped to handle the complicated logistics that involve storage in sub-freezing temperatures. He said one of the biggest challenges will be getting the vaccine into homes that care for the elderly, a top clinical priority, and into primary care networks, so the general populace has access to it.

Hancock said that while "help is on its way and the end is in sight," he also noted there are signs of the virus continuing to spread in parts of the country, including Essex, London and Kent. He said citizens were going to have to continue following restrictions to keep safe and the virus from spreading.

Britain is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after regulators last week authorized the use of a COVID-19 shot developed by U.S. Drug maker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine meets the standard for emergency use authorization. A group of FDA advisors is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider the authorization, and decision is expected within days of that meeting.

European Union regulators may also approve the vaccine in the coming days or weeks, fueling a global immunization effort.