18:25 GMT25 January 2021
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    Amidst the raging COVID-19 pandemic and discovery of a new highly contagious virus strain in the UK, the government has started the vaccination campaign using the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which was granted emergency use approval earlier this month.

    The former UK prime minister, Tony Blair, has called for the government to alter its coronavirus vaccination plan by ramping up vaccinations in order to not only protect those who are "most vulnerable" to the virus, but also to curb the spread of the new COVID-19 strain, which is said to be 70% more transmissible than the original, the ex-prime minister wrote in the Independent on Tuesday.

    Blair said that the expected timetable for mass vaccination, expected to be achieved by the summer next year at the earliest, would cause "colossal" damage to the country's economy and health.

    "We can't eradicate this virus, we have to live with it", he argued. "It will be with us probably for some years. It may change like the flu, so requiring constant adjustment is our means of combating it - and continuing our current course would mean severe lockdown until vaccination."

    Therefore, he urged policy-makers to accelerate the approval of new vaccines, including the one developed at Oxford University in cooperation with AstraZeneca.

    Blair urged the government not to hold back half of the first batch of the two-shot vaccines available next month for the second dose, but to use them all in order to provide some "substantial immunity" before waiting for the second batch to be supplied, calling for the same thing to be done with the one-shot vaccines.

    "We should consider using all the available doses in January as first doses, that is, not keeping back half for second doses. Then, as more production is rolled out, we will have enough for the second dose", the former prime minister stressed. "Thirty million Johnson and Johnson vaccines – which is a one-dose vaccine – should also be with us by end of January. We should aim to use them all in February."

    According to the Independent, such efforts would mean the vaccination of more than 15 million people, almost a quarter of country's population, by the end of next month. Presently at least 108,000 people have been vaccinated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

    Blair went on to call on the authorities to refocus the aim of the vaccine program from targeting predominantly the most vulnerable to the ones "spreading" it, ensuring as many people are given their medicine as quickly as possible.

    "The logic behind age is naturally heightened risk of mortality", he said. "But if it is the spread we’re anxious about, then it makes sense to consider vaccinating those doing the spreading, in particular certain occupations or age groups such as students."
    90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020
    © AP Photo / Jacob King
    90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020

    Blair continued with the urge to the government to revisit the logistics for a mass rollout of vaccines and to prepare for the use of so-called "health passports" as an identification measure for those who have immunity from the novel coronavirus. 

    "I know all the objections, but it will happen. It’s the only way the world will function and for lockdowns to no longer be the sole course of action", Blair said.

    Last week, it was announced by the UK authorities that a mutated coronavirus strain that can be transmitted up to 70% faster has been actively spreading in London and the surrounding areas. The virus is said to infect more easily than earlier strains, according to preliminary research. Many countries have decided to ban the entry of people arriving from the UK as a precaution.

    Earlier, the UK government had eased the anti-COVID-19 measures over the upcoming Christmas holidays by allowing up to three households to mix from 23-28 December.

    To date, the UK now has over 2.1 million registered infections along with a death toll of over 68,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.


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