Lorries were spotted transporting thousands of doses from Pfizer’s factories in Puurs, Belgium, on Wednesday morning after British regulators gave the vaccine the green light.

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the breakthrough jab and 800,000 doses will arrive in the coming days – with some expected as early as tomorrow, said the companies.

Speaking at a No 10 press briefing tonight, Boris Johnson said ‘the biggest programme of mass vaccination in the history of the UK’ is about to begin and he is ‘certain’ that life will return to normal by spring.

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Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said phase one of the rollout – prioritising the most high-risk – will eradicate about 99% of coronavirus-related deaths.

The first people who will receive the jabs from 50 hospital hubs next week will be the over-80s, care home staff and elderly people who already have a hospital appointment booked, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

GP practices will then start operating local vaccination centres, with plans to open around 1,000 across England.

Although many will start receiving jabs this months, the bulk of vaccinations will take place in January through to March or April for the ‘at-risk population’, said Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.

Prof Stevens said the NHS is ‘raring to go’ to vaccinate people in care homes but laid bare the logistical difficulties of transporting the vaccine.

He warned some care home residents will have to wait a little longer for their jab – despite them being top of the priority list – but hoped they would receive it this month.

Prof Stevens said the Government is working to roll out the first doses to care homes as soon as it is ‘legally and technically possible’ and residents will have to wait until it is confirmed that batches of the vaccine can be safely divided.

He said the vaccine has to be stored at such low temperatures that it can only be moved a few times and the packs of doses – with 975 per pack – cannot easily be split.

Prof Van-Tam added: ‘Professor Stevens has been very clear that as soon as it is legally and technically possible to get the vaccine into care homes, we will do so.

‘But this is a complex product with a very fragile cold chain.

‘It’s not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times, it’s really tricky to handle.

‘And so I think we’ll get there as fast as we can is the answer, and we are trying extremely hard.’

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