Britain is preparing to become the first country to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine this week with the first shots available at 50 hospitals, the government said on Sunday.
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.
With high levels of vaccine scepticism worrying public health experts, The Times and Mail on Sunday newspapers reported that Queen Elizabeth, 94, and her husband Prince Philip, 99, would "let it be known" when they had received the vaccine.
Her public backing for the vaccine is seen as a powerful message to counter anti-vaccination misinformation circulating online.
Farming minister George Eustice told Times Radio it was a "personal decision" for the Queen whether she takes the coronavirus vaccine.
“But it is very important that we try to make sure that people are reassured about this vaccine,” he said. “It has been rigorously tested, it's been through a very rigorous authorisation process and it is safe.”
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.
In total, Britain has ordered 40 million doses. As each person requires two doses, that is 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.
The rollout coincides with a crucial and perilous moment in negotiations between Britain and the European Union on a post-Brexit trade agreement.
A status quo transition period will end on December 31 and a no-deal scenario would lead to major disruptions in the movement of goods between Britain and EU countries such as Belgium.
The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that, under UK government contingency plans, tens of millions of vaccine doses could be flown to Britain by military aircraft to avoid delays at ports caused by Brexit.
The head of the medicines regulatory agency that approved the vaccine, June Raine, was asked whether she was concerned that a no-deal risked disrupting the rollout.
"We've practised, we are ready, we are fully prepared for any possible outcome," she told the BBC.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has onerous storage requirements. It needs to be kept at -70℃ 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.
The coronavirus has killed more than 1.5 million people and infected 66 million around the world since emerging in China last year.