First country rolls out AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine as EU faces challenges with its inoculations.

First country rolls out AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine as EU faces challenges with its inoculations.

An 82-year-old dialysis patient on Monday became the first person in the world to receive the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca

and the University of Oxford since it was approved for use in the U.K., which is battling a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases.

Brian Pinker, a retired maintenance manager, was given the shot at 7:30 a.m. GMT from nurse Sam Foster at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital. “I am so pleased to be getting the COVID vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford,” Pinker said in a statement issued by the National Health Service.

More than half a million doses of the vaccine from drug company AstraZeneca

and the University of Oxford shot will be available from Monday, with tens of millions more to be delivered in the coming weeks and months once batches have been quality checked by the regulator, the government said.

The U.K. government has secured access to 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine, which was authorized for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, on Dec. 30.

Shots will be delivered at 730 vaccination sites already established across the U.K., with others opening this week to take the total to more than 1,000, the government said in a statement.

“This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.

Hancock’s comments come almost a month after the U.K. began the rollout of the vaccine developed by U.S. drug company Pfizer

and its German partner BioNTech
with more than one million people having now received their first dose of the two-dose shot.

Last week, the MHRA, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization and four U.K. chief medical officers agreed to delay the gap between the first and second doses of vaccines, in a bid to protect the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.

The AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine is easier to transport and store than the Pfizer–BioNTech shot, which has to be kept at minus 70 degrees until shortly before it is used, making it easier to deliver in care homes.

The rollout of the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine comes amid a resurging outbreak of coronavirus cases in the U.K., with more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases recorded for the sixth day in a row. On Sunday, 54,990 new infections and 454 deaths were recorded, according to government data.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told national broadcaster the BBC that tougher measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks to control the rapid spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. “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,” Johnson said.

Read: Slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout in U.S. could portend more problems

Meanwhile, some European Union leaders have come under criticism for the slow pace of their vaccination programs, which began on Dec. 27 using the Pfizer–BioNTech shot.

BioNTech Chief Executive Uğur Şahin told German newspaper Der Spiegel that the process in Europe “certainly wasn’t as fast and straightforward” as in other countries, partly because the EU isn’t directly authorized and member states have a say.

The French government has pledged to accelerate the pace of vaccinations after only inoculating just over 350 people with the Pfizer–BioNtech shot in the first six days, compared with Germany’s 238,000. From Monday, medical staff aged 50 and older in France will receive the shots. Vaccines in the Netherlands won’t be administered until Jan. 8, when the IT system required for planning and registering the shots will be ready.

Several European countries are set to extend their lockdowns amid the rise in coronavirus cases. On Saturday, France moved to a nightly curfew in 15 departments from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet the heads of Germany’s states to decide whether to extend the current lockdown beyond Jan. 10.

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