The British government’s fumble in controlling the spread of COVID-19, as well as its mishandling of track and trace and its continually mixed messaging regarding lockdowns, risked becoming a legacy of failure. But there is hope yet. By the end of last week, the United Kingdom had vaccinated nearly 6 percent of its population against the coronavirus. This means it is fourth behind Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, and significantly ahead of its European neighbors and the United States.
The vaccination program has cost the Johnson government an estimated £11.7 billion. So far, the U.K. medical authorities have given approval for the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccines, the Pfizer-Biontech vaccines, and the Moderna vaccines. The National Health Service’s centralized structure has also made the rollout easier, as have the controversial restrictions of personal liberties.
Britain is currently under a strict lockdown, with most of the population virtually under house arrest except for essential grocery store trips and exercise. This appears to be making some difference in the population at large, but case numbers in the elderly are still rising. In England, the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus is 40 percent higher than it was at the last peak. This is particularly concerning given that the NHS is already prone to becoming overwhelmed during the winter season.
Another consideration is the newer, more infectious “B.1.1.7 strain,” against which the vaccine may prove to be less effective. Still, Britain has vaccinated more of its population than the rest of Europe combined. For the U.K., there has never been more reason to worry and more reason to hope about the trajectory of the pandemic.