For weeks, Britain has reported eye-watering coronavirus death numbers, hospitals have continued to fill up, and fears are high that it will take months to control the spread of a highly transmissible variant first detected in the Kent region of England last year.
Yet vaccination figures have offered a glimmer of hope: Nearly five million people had received a first vaccine dose in Britain as of Friday, according to government data. That amounts to about 8 percent of the population.
Fewer than 500,000 have received a second injection, as the National Health Service is prioritizing first injections and second jabs are given up to 12 weeks after the first.
Since the authorities imposed new lockdown restrictions in England this month, Britain has reported its highest daily death figures and remains one of the worst-hit countries in Europe. Nearly 95,000 people have died of the coronavirus in British hospitals, and the authorities have said that England’s lockdown could remain in place throughout the spring.
The situation is so grim that the authorities are considering offering £500 (about $680) to anyone testing positive for the virus, in a bid to encourage people to respect quarantine rules, according to British news reports.
There are also fears that cuts in vaccine deliveries from Pfizer, as has occurred in other places, may slow down the rollout, and that variations in vaccination rates within the country puts some areas at a disadvantage.
Yet six weeks after becoming the first Western country to approve a vaccine, Britain is among those championing their mass vaccination campaign. By comparison, the United States has vaccinated around 4.5 percent of its population, and most European countries less than 2 percent.
In Britain, a racecourse, rugby fields and religious buildings have been turned into vaccination centers, in addition to 1,200 hospitals and medical offices. More than two million people were vaccinated in the past seven days, twice as many as two weeks ago.
At such a pace, Britain may fall short of its goal to vaccinate 13.9 million people by mid-February, but the authorities have said they can reach the target if they continue to increase the pace.
Elsewhere in Europe, members of the European Union have meanwhile urged the bloc to accelerate the delivery of their vaccine doses, and several leaders expressed frustration on Thursday over the rate of the rollout.
Government officials in Romania and Poland said that Pfizer had halved the amount of vaccine doses being delivered to their countries, and Italian officials have threatened legal action against the U.S. vaccine maker.
“Leaders want vaccination to be accelerated,” said Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, the group of E.U. leaders.