Britain on Wednesday (2 December) became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use and said that it will be rolled out from early next week.
According to the UK’s regulator, the independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe for roll-out.
Immunisations could start within days for people in high priority groups.
The approval of the Pfizer vaccine comes as a new survey conducted in the aftermath of Oxford University’s parallel announcement of a breakthrough vaccine against COVID-19 has revealed a worrying level of confidence amongst the British public.
Pfizer said Britain’s emergency use authorization marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19.
“This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK,” said CEO Albert Bourla.
“As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world.”
The UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the programme would begin early next week. Hospitals, he said, were already ready to receive it.
“It is very good news,” Hancock said.
The UK has already ordered 40m doses – enough to vaccinate 20m people, with two shots each.
Around 10m doses should be available soon, with the first doses arriving in the UK in the coming days.
It is the fastest ever vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same developmental steps that normally span a decade.
The vaccine is a new type called an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight Covid-19 and build immunity.
An mRNA vaccine has never been approved for use in humans before, although people have received them in clinical trials.
One of the issues with the vaccine is that it must be stored at around -70C and will be transported in special boxes, packed in dry ice. Once delivered, it can be kept for up to five days in a fridge.
Experts have drawn up a provisional priority list, targeting people at highest risk. Top are care home residents and staff, followed by people over 80 and other health and social care workers.
They will receive the first stocks of the vaccine – some as soon as next week. Mass immunisation of everyone over 50, as well as younger people with pre-existing health conditions, can happen as more stocks become available in 2021. It is given as two injections, 21 days apart, with the second dose being a booster.