LONDON—Britain’s authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine, the first in the West, sets in motion an ambitious plan that will test the capabilities of its state-run National Health Service: Inoculate everybody in the country over 50 within months.
The U.K. has been laying the groundwork for some time. Officials organized test runs to refine the logistics of delivering a shot that, in the case of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE , has to be stored at an ultralow temperature. The government changed the law to allow student doctors, physiotherapists and dental workers to administer the jab. Scientists advising the government have drawn up a provisional list of who should get vaccinated first.
The scale and urgency of the task is such that the NHS, already under enormous pressure because of the pandemic, has appealed for retired doctors and nurses to rejoin the service and for thousands of volunteers to train as vaccinators and support staff.
The project will be “the biggest vaccination campaign in our history,” NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens said Wednesday.
One major help: Vaccine skepticism is lower in the U.K. than in many other Western countries. A survey by Ipsos in October showed 79% of Britons would get Covid-19 shots if available, compared with 64% in the U.S. and 54% in France.