• Reed Cory

Vaccine Rollout in the United States & the United Kingdom

As high-income countries capture the majority of the 8.6 billion COVID-19 vaccines, the United States and the United Kingdom are two significant models for the observation of the development, rollout, and success strategies of numerous vaccines. Due to their shared status as world leaders, both nations have immense resources at their disposal to make a difference in the fight against COVID-19.

Photo Courtesy: Dado Ruvic/Reueters

Looking at current vaccination rates, the U.S. has been able to get 61% of its population fully vaccinated, while the U.K. has fully inoculated 70% of its population. While progress in vaccination rates is being made, there remains a delayed return to normality. With the anti-vax movement still in full swing and daily new cases of the virus as the Omnicron variant arises, it is challenging to establish which nation is doing a better job of the vaccine rollout, and what constitutes a more effective plan. Between being the first western country to begin mass vaccinations, current higher vaccination rates, and effective advertising campaigns, the U.K. has been winning the inoculation race.


As of October 2021, only the United Arab Emirates and Israel are ahead of the U.K. in vaccine rollout, a huge achievement for the country of 67 million citizens. The United Kingdom proactively initiated a rolling review of vaccine data back in October of 2020, and later approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use on December 2, 2020. While the U.S. approved the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 11, 2020, and gave out their first shot on December 14, 2020. These swift movements were backed by a difference of standardized practices in pharmaceutical vaccine rollouts from the European Union that would have set the U.K. back in approving and administering vaccinations.


In 2019, Oxford University scientists developed a vaccine based on a prototype vaccine that was originally meant for coronaviruses and MERS. This became the first vaccine contract signed in June 2020 by the U.K. government for 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination. Following the first contract, in October 2020, the U.K. ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Within two months of the emergency authorization, the U.K. had injected 15% of its population; at the same time, the U.S. had only 9% of its population vaccinated.


Much of the U.K.’s lasting vaccine-rollout success is from strong leadership and a clear plan of execution. The government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, helped shape the vaccination campaign by directing the National Health Service to initiate vaccinations. From this delegation, a total of 355 million doses were secured by the U.K. government by December 2020, with much of the success stemming from successful advertising campaigns.


These campaigns have been centered around one governmentally-funded movement called “Every Vaccination Gives Us Hope.” On April 26, 2021, the national campaign targeted those under 50 years old, hoping to encourage younger audiences to get vaccinated. Between TV advertisements, radio announcements, social media graphics, and billboards, encouragements for vaccination spread across the country. This campaign also included special postmarks on Royal Mail and video messages from several well-known figures such as Sir Elton John.


By appealing to multiple generations, the campaign became a success: by mid-May, U.K. restaurants reopened for indoor dining, museums opened their doors, and businesses welcomed in-person patrons. During reopening, however, there was confusion in when to return to work from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration, stemming from multiple roadmaps being laid out. The first recovery plan failed to include points of precision, causing confusion in the public regarding when they could expect life to resume to normal, as well as in what was and wasn’t allowed. For instance, citizens were encouraged to return to work but told to avoid using public transportation, highlighting inconsistencies in the government’s recommendations.


These reopening standards are a contrast to those of the United States as individual states have the ability to choose how they reopen, from lockdowns to mask mandates. States such as Florida decided to stay open without mask mandates as Gov. DeSantis cited that individuals and parents should be free to choose to wear a mask or get vaccinated. While other states such as California continued to endure long lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccination requirements.


In the United States, the federal government relied heavily on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, ordering 300 million of each. The U.S. ordered enough vaccines in March 2021 to fully inoculate more than 750 million people. This production was made possible by the resources set aside for it. Former President Donald Trump set aside an initial $18 billion in his efforts named “Operation Warp Speed” which was designed to expedite the research and production of vaccines.


From this, rollout started on December 14, 2020, using emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, with healthcare workers and the most vulnerable first in line. Vaccine rollout reached its maximum in the U.S. in April with more than four million doses being administered daily. This progress slowed as vaccines seemed to have reached the majority of people who wanted to receive a vaccine. Now, as a nation, the U.S. is averaging just under 1 million doses per day, including booster shots that were approved on September 22.


The U.S. vaccine effort was bolstered by a billion-dollar campaign geared at convincing Americans that current vaccines are safe and effective was shown around the country. Headed by President Biden, the campaign appealed to young people, people of color, and conservative Americans to receive a vaccine to help mitigate the risk of the Delta variant from spreading. The campaign focused on showing encouraging messages of hope and factual information through TV, radio, and social media advertisements.


Additionally, public safety announcements were distributed in collaboration with the Ad Council and The Creative Coalition. Celebrities got involved, too: pop star Olivia Rodrigo visited President Biden in the White House and stated in an Instagram post, “YOU have the power to save lives.”


The Yale School of Public Health report determined that these campaigns were effective enough to prevent up to 279,000 COVID-19 related deaths and avoid an extra 1.25 million hospitalizations. Even the percentage of adults refusing a vaccine dropped by 5%. Despite these campaigns, both countries experienced ideological resistance rooted in misinformation, distrust in institutions, and perceptions of individual liberty.


Vaccine hesitancy and resistance in the United Kingdom are related to sociodemographic factors, mistrust of the government, and the lack of initiative to seek factual information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. The lack of trust is so immense that some believed that those who took the vaccine would die within a few months. Fears have originated from how quickly the vaccine was produced, despite the amount of money invested into demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. The U.K. government has released information regarding the efficacy rates and legitimacy of the research behind the vaccine, but citizens are still hesitant to receive a jab.


In the United States, some of the anti-vaccination groups in the U.S. are anti-government libertarians as well as parents who do not want the government to make choices about their children. However, vaccine hesitancy has led to COVID-19 becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated, where the majority of critically-ill COVID-19 patients are those who are not vaccinated.


This COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been a monumental step in mitigating COVID-19 around the world and while these two countries have experienced setbacks, the efforts being made by both governments are crucial and have been effective in reducing the severity of the virus. Officials in the U.S. and UK governments have made strides against the virus and continue to do so in combating social barriers to vaccinations and by adapting their political and public health policies to the rapidly changing conditions they work in.