UK stocks up on vaccines, hopes to start virus shots in days

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FILE - In this file photo dated Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine lab technician processes blood samples from volunteers taking part in testing the NIH funded Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Miami, USA. Britain said Sunday Nov. 29, 2020, it has secured 2 million more doses of a promising coronavirus vaccine developed by US firm Moderna, as the country aims to launch an inoculation program within days. (AP Photo/Taimy Alvarez, FILE)

LONDON – Britain said Sunday it has secured 2 million more doses of a promising coronavirus vaccine as it gears up to launch within days the country's most ambitious inoculation program in decades.

The U.K. has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 58,000 confirmed virus-related deaths. It now hopes to hit a more positive milestone by becoming one of the first countries in the world to start vaccinating its population against COVID-19.

The U.K. government has agreed to buy more than 350 million doses of vaccines from seven different producers, should they prove effective, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible.

The Department of Health said Sunday it had increased its order for a vaccine developed by U.S. firm Moderna from 5 million to 7 million doses, enough for 3.5 million people.

The Moderna vaccine is expected to be referred soon to the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, to see if it is safe and effective. Two other vaccines — one developed by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, the other by Oxford University and AstraZeneca — are already being assessed by the regulator, the final stage before being rolled out.

Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Hospitals in England have been told they could receive the first doses of the Pfizer shot as early as the week of Dec. 7 if it receives approval, the Guardian and Financial Times reported. The U.S. vaccination program also hopes to begin inoculating some Americans in December.

The government says frontline health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by older people, starting with those over 80. The plan is to work down the age and risk groups until everyone 18 and over has been inoculated.