Why the Oxford jab is a real game-changer for the UK – and the rest of the world

Judith Woods
·4-min read
82-year-old Brian Pinker receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford as the NHS ramps up its vaccination programme - Steve Parsons/PA
82-year-old Brian Pinker receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford as the NHS ramps up its vaccination programme - Steve Parsons/PA

He was born and bred in Oxford. He has lived and worked in Oxford. And, at the age of 82, Brian Pinker on Monday became the first person in the world to receive the Covid-19 vaccine created and manufactured in Oxford.

“I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford,” Mr Pinker said.

“The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year.”

John Lennon once trenchantly observed: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”.

By any standards it was a momentous occasion – Mr Pinker’s words, the ultimate, dignified riposte to the young and the reckless who would dismiss 'the elderly' wholesale as a dispensable demographic without agency or investment in the future.

A retired maintenance manager, Mr Pinker has been having dialysis for kidney disease at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s Churchill Hospital for some years.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will protect him against coronavirus and enable him to mark his marriage milestone.

In his own words, the vaccine “is the only way I‘ll be getting back to normal life". 

Normal is of course some distance down the line in a population of 67 million souls. The new restrictions imposed will see our world shrink even further.

However, with the start of the vaccination roll-out, a bona fide beacon of hope has been lit in the darkness of despair, even if we can’t yet see it in the gloom.

As far as vaccines are concerned, we have of course been here before, strictly speaking. After all, in early December, grandmother-of-four Margaret Keenan was given the very first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

That was just four weeks ago; the jubilation back then contrasts with the downbeat mood now.

We are currently beset on all sides by the alarming spread of the more infectious variant of coronavirus and stentorian warnings from the Prime Minister that we face “tough, tough weeks to come”.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has ordered the population to stay at home until the end of January. South of the border, the consternation prompted by the announcement of a full shutdown all but eclipsed the optimism the Oxford vaccine ought to have sparked.

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has justifiably hailed the jab as “the single biggest stride that we've been able to take since this pandemic began". 

It is no idle boast. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine represents a real game-changer within these shores and beyond.

That it is to be sold at cost price to developing countries in perpetuity, is an admirable way to reposition ourselves, post-Brexit, on the international stage.

And so when our leaders declared it a “huge British success story” is was not just political bombast. Far from it.

So why was the Oxford vaccine not launched sooner? In the past month, the Pfizer jab has been successfully given to around one million people in the UK, despite the hurdles; it must be kept at -70 C, making it difficult to store and transport from Belgium.

Its distribution was due to medical expediency; Pfizer was administered first simply because it received approval from the UK medicines regulator on December 2 whereas the Oxford vaccine was not given the green light until December 30.

Sam Foster from the Churchill Hospital in Oxford 
Sam Foster from the Churchill Hospital in Oxford

However, as only 40 million Pfizer jabs were ordered, it was clear from the outset that the Oxford vaccine – cheaper and easier to store – was always intended to be the central plank of the Government’s vaccination strategy.

This is why a total of 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine have already been secured, enough for most of us to receive the two doses necessary to provide protection.

The task now is to suppress the virus enough to allow large-scale vaccinations to take place.

Some experts have recommended that centres operate a 24-7 system, so that young people can make use of late appointments; after the restrictions of 2020, 8pm is the new midnight for the rest of us.

Boris Johnson has spoken of the virtues of self discipline and adherence to social distancing regulations. He is keenly aware that while patience is running out, unfortunately patients are not.

Somehow he must stiffen Britain’s resolve, galvanise our community spirit and convince the country that a vaccine victory will be ours if we stand firm, stand together.

The Government’s intention is to deliver tens of millions of doses within months, with the eventual goal of administering two million per week.

Ambitious but not impossible. It is said that the night is darkest before dawn. If red tape is cut, ingenuity harnessed and we gratefully roll up our sleeves, the creativity of Oxford’s dreaming spires could soon deliver us from our coronavirus nightmare.