The first doses will be administrated to people over the age of 80, frontline healthcare workers and care home staff and residents.
Britain is preparing to become the first country to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine this week, initially making the shot available at hospitals before distributing stocks to doctors' clinics.
The government said on Sunday that the first doses are set to be administered on Tuesday, with the National Health Service (NHS) giving top priority to vaccinating the over-80s, frontline healthcare workers and care home staff and residents.
Britain gave emergency use approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech last week, jumping ahead in the global race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation programme in history.
READ MORE: BioNTech, Pfizer to seek FDA approval for vaccine on Friday
In total, Britain has ordered 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people in the country of 67 million.
About 800,000 doses are expected to be available within the first week.
Initial doses that have arrived from Belgium are being stored in secure locations across the country, where they will be quality checked, the health ministry said.
READ MORE: Top UK medical chiefs expect major fall in Covid-19 deaths by early 2021
Hard to preserve
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has onerous storage requirements. It needs to be kept at -70C and only lasts five days in a regular fridge.
For that reason, the health ministry said the vaccine would first be administered in 50 hospitals.
It said it would take a few hours to defrost each vaccine and prepare it for use.
NHS England has written to general practitioners, telling them to get ready to start giving vaccinations through local doctors' services from December 14.
Rather than run clinics in individual surgeries, groups of local doctors will operate more than 1,000 vaccination centres across the country, the government said.
Exciting news: We received the world’s first authorization of a #COVID19 #vaccine, with @MHRA granting emergency use authorization in the UK. More regulatory decisions may come in 2020. More information: https://t.co/8Fpa22leS5 pic.twitter.com/mTIO48RgnN— BioNTech SE (@BioNTech_Group) December 2, 2020
Boxes of the vaccine contain five packs of 975 doses, but special regulatory approval is needed to split them up.
A senior medical official has said that while he is hopeful it would be possible to split the packs and deliver straight to care homes, it will not be guaranteed.
Britain is among the first nations to roll out vaccinations outside the context of a clinic trial, raising hopes that the tide could soon turn against a virus that has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally and hammered the world economy.
Russia began distributing its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine through 70 clinics in Moscow on Saturday, although the shot has not finished its final trials.
While China is also preparing for a mass nationwide rollout of its locally-produced vaccine.
READ MORE: WHO says vaccines won't halt short-term coronavirus surge – latest updates