Queen Elizabeth will be one of the first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccination due to her age (Image: AP/Aaron Chown)

The UK has today become the first Western nation to start vaccinating against COVID-19, and the Queen will be among the first to get the jab.

But China and Russia are already streets ahead, having vaccinated hundreds of thousands of their citizens. Their vaccines haven’t been fully tested (but that hasn’t stopped China spruiking its vaccine to developing countries).

Long live the Queen

Queen Elizabeth, 94, and her husband Prince Philip, 99, will be among the first Brits to get the coronavirus vaccine in the UK, which is being rolled out from today. The royal couple’s place on the priority list is not due to their privileged status, though — those over 80 will be prioritised, as will nursing home residents and their carers.

News from their counterparts in continental Europe has shown that other royals have not been so lucky. Overnight the Danish Royal family confirmed Crown Princess Mary’s son Prince Christian tested positive for COVID-19 after an outbreak at his school. The family is now in isolation in the palace. And last week Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip and his wife Princess Sofia also tested positive.

Who’s next in line?

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with an initial batch of 800,000 to kickstart today’s rollout. More doses will come from Belgium, where they’re being manufactured, potentially with a military escort.

Frontline health and care staff will make up the second cohort to receive the vaccine, followed by elderly people who’ve not yet been vaccinated and the clinically extremely vulnerable. The vaccine will then be administered based on age.

Authorities will issue a vaccination card to prove someone has had the vaccine, but say the card won’t confer any “special privileges”. Some airlines including Qantas have previously said immunisation would be a mandatory requirement for international travel.

China and Russia already rolling

While the UK is the first Western nation to start doling out the doses, China and Russia have already vaccinated huge numbers of their populations.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was delivered to clinics over the weekend, with those with the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 — doctors and other medical workers, teachers and social workers — prioritised. People aged over 60 are not eligible.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the mass immunisation program just hours after UK health authorities approved Pfizer’s vaccine. Sputnik V hasn’t yet done its final trials.

China has vaccinated hundreds of thousands of people with its Sinovac vaccine, which also hasn’t been fully tested.

With a history of dodgy practices and poor standards in the pharmaceutical industry, China is advertising its vaccines as affordable options to other countries, with one developer working with Brazil and another with Mexico on trials.

Indonesia received its first shipment of 1.2 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine on Monday.

Chinese company Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products has also won a contract to manufacture a vaccine by AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant.

US records continue to tumble

The US is recording record high rates of new COVID-19 cases, while vaccines are expected to be approved for use in the coming weeks.

But the Trump administration previously passed on an offer by Pfizer for more doses of its vaccine. The US signed up for 100 million doses — enough for 50 million people — and may now have to wait until at least June 2021 to get more.

Around the world

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said the country will offer free vaccines to all Brazilians once a vaccine is given authorisation for use. The country has a long history of anti-vaccination sentiment which Bolsonaro has promoted.

Canada is expecting 249,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year. Australia’s timeline has the first vaccinations in March, once they’ve been approved by independent regulators. Pfizer has sought emergency approval for its vaccine in India.