UK hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed but vaccines provide a spark of hope, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group said on Monday.
Prof Andrew Pollard made the remarks after becoming the third person in the world to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine outside trial conditions.
Six hospitals in England will this week administer the first of about 530,000 doses Britain has currently.
The drug will arrive at hundreds of sites in the coming days and the government hopes to deliver tens of millions of doses within months, provided AstraZeneca can increase supply.
Prof Pollard said the vaccine was being distributed at a critical moment for the country. "We are at the point of being overwhelmed by this disease," he told BBC Breakfast.
The UK has ordered about 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – enough to immunise 50 million people with the two shots required.
Last month, Britain became the first country to use the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, which has to be stored at ultra-low temperatures.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is considered easier to distribute as it can be kept in a normal fridge, and costs less than $5 a dose.
It was also developed in record time, taking less than 12 months from conception to approval, a process that typically takes five to 10 years.
Regulators say the vaccine is on average 70 per cent effective in protecting against Covid-19 when taken as two full doses eight to 12 weeks apart.
“So far the evidence indicates there shouldn’t be a problem against this new variant,” Prof Pollard told Sky News when asked of its efficacy against the more infectious variant.
Prof Pollard, a paediatrician, received the shot because health workers are prioritised under the UK government’s staggered vaccination programme.
He assured people the shot was safe and urged people to take it when they are called.
“We are only going to make an impact when vaccines are in people’s arms,” he said. “They do nothing in the glass vial.”