First Oxford vaccine administered amid UK lockdown calls

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Britain administered the first dose of its newly-approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday amid calls for the country to enter a third nationwide lockdown.

Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old man from the vaccine’s birthplace Oxford, was the first to be given the new vaccine, which is being rolled out as the U.K. grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases.

“Didn’t feel it, how strange,” Pinker said after receiving the injection. “I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year.”

The vaccine is the second to be approved for use in the U.K. after the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was given the thumbs-up by regulators at the end of 2020.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces mounting calls to introduce tougher restrictions across England, with opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer demanding the replacement of its current tiered system of restrictions with a more stringent national lockdown.

The U.K. has registered more than 50,000 new daily cases for six days in a row, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC’s Today program the total number of people in hospital in England was now “higher than the first peak” last spring.

Most of the U.K. is currently subject to the most stringent tier 4 coronavirus restrictions, under which residents are urged to stay at home and non-essential businesses, including the majority of shops, pubs and restaurants, are ordered to close, but Johnson hinted Sunday that remaining areas could be upgraded to the highest level of restrictions.

The prime minister is expected to chair a meeting of his “COVID-O” committee Monday.

“The old tier system is no longer strong enough,” Hancock said Monday, pointing out that the system was designed in November before a more infectious strain of the coronavirus was properly understood.

Conservative MP Neil O’Brien — who chairs Johnson’s Downing Street policy board — said the government needed to do “something big to slow the explosive growth and stop hospitals being further overwhelmed.”

Johnson also faces pressure over the government’s plan to reopen schools in some parts of England, with all major teaching unions calling for a “pause” in reopening institutions and accusing the government of “creating chaos.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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