The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and will be made available from next week, U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
U.K. regulators are the first to approve Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use and Britain will be one of the first countries to start vaccinating their population.
Studies have shown the jab to be 95% effective and works in all age groups. No safety concerns arose from clinical trials.
U.S. and European Union regulators are reviewing the Pfizer shot, along with a similar vaccine developed by Moderna. British regulators are also reviewing a vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to meet Dec. 10 and decide whether to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. The first shipments of the vaccine will arrive in the U.S. on Dec. 15, CNN reported.
The U.K. has secured some 40 million doses in total, with 10 million due in the country by the end of the year.
People will need two doses, meaning enough has been bought for 20 million Brits.
The shots will have to come to Britain from the company’s distribution center in Belgium, and need to be stored at minus 70C.
Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning that 800,000 doses of the vaccine will be available next week, with “several millions” more arriving throughout December.
He added: “We’ll then deploy at the speed that it’s manufactured, and the manufacturing is, of course, being done by Pfizer in Belgium, so that will determine the speed at which we can roll it out.”
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the vaccination program would be the “largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.”
Hancock tweeted: “Help is on its way. The [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)] has formally authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19.
“The NHS stands ready to start vaccinating early next week. The UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply.”
(Russia has approved a vaccine but there are concerns about safety and its efficacy).
On the challenge posed by the need for the vaccine to be stored at an ultra-low temperature, Hancock told Sky News: “This is a challenging rollout and the NHS in all parts of the UK stands ready to make that happen.
“They are used to handling vaccines and medicines like this, with these sorts of conditions.
“It’s not easy but we’ve got those plans in place, so this morning I spoke to my counterparts in the devolved nations to make sure that we are all ready to roll out this vaccine … from early next week.”
In a statement, Stevens said: “This is an important next step in our response to the coronavirus pandemic and hospitals will shortly kick off the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.
“The NHS has a proven track record of delivering large-scale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to BCG and, once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in England’s hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a program that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent MHRA to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use.
“This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will shortly also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
“The vaccine will be made available across the U.K. from next week.”
Liza Hearon contributed to this article.
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