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U.K. Vaccination Plan Puts Elderly First but Delays Possible Herd Immunity

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LONDON—In the race between vaccine and virus, the U.K.—like other Western countries—has prioritized inoculating elderly people first, calculating that such a strategy will drastically cut Covid-19 deaths even if it won’t stop the disease’s spread.

The government estimates that if it vaccinates just over a fifth of the population it can protect more than four-fifths of those most at risk of dying from Covid-19.

But the strategy has an important consequence: By trying to protect the people most vulnerable to the virus rather than younger, working-age people, restrictions on daily life could last many months before herd-immunity thresholds are reached in the broader population that could help crush the pandemic.

The British approach aims to use currently scarce vaccines to target those most at risk of ending up in the hospital and dying, and by doing so lift the burden as soon as possible on hospitals that are overwhelmed. But it involves logistical challenges, such as delivering the vaccine to an estimated 300,000 people in 10,000 nursing homes across the country who can’t travel.

“It’s much easier just to open the doors and let everybody come through, and keep jabbing” as some countries have done, the minister for Covid-19 vaccine deployment, Nadhim Zahawi, told lawmakers on Wednesday.

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