The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine — which offers up to 95% protection against COVID-19 — in a huge step towards halting the spread of the virus and saving lives. The first 800,000 doses will reportedly be available for the most vulnerable people from next week.
Britain’s medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), licensed the COVID-19 vaccine for “emergency use” having received the final data on the vaccine results from the company on Nov. 23, the Guardian reported.
In order for it to do so, the government gave the MHRA special powers to approve it ahead of Jan. 1 when the public body officially becomes fully responsible for medicines regulation in the UK post-Brexit, it was reported.
The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine is one of a several being developed and was the first to show successful trial results — reporting early results of 90% effectiveness on Nov. 9, which increased to 95% in its final results on Nov. 18, with no major safety concerns being reported. Both the biotech company Moderna, and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca working with Oxford University, also reported successful results last month.
Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer told the Guardian: “Today’s emergency use authorisation in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19.”
“This authorisation 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,” Bourla continued.
Care home staff and residents, health workers, and people over 80 are at the top of the priority list to get the vaccine. The first vaccines will be administered in hospitals as they already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, the temperature it needs to be kept at, the BBC report said.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the development was “fantastic news.”
He said: “The MHRA, the fiercely independent regulator, has clinically authorised the vaccine for rollout. The NHS stands ready to make that happen.”
“From early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against COVID-19 here in this country,” Hancock continued. “The MHRA have approved it as clinically safe and we have a vaccine, so it’s very good news.”
Hancock went on to explain that the UK has ordered 40 million doses — enough to vaccinate 20 million people, as it requires two doses — which he said would happen throughout December and mostly in 2021.
“The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium,” Hancock said, adding that the first batch would be coming next week and then "several millions" throughout December.
The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is on its way to the UK, but even after the first injection it will take 12 days before people start building immunity to the virushttps://t.co/pcI05EPpQtpic.twitter.com/HbVI3yIlkw— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) December 2, 2020
The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine ever to go from first concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span around 10 years — a process that a vaccine expert from the Wellcome Trust laid out for Global Citizen earlier this year. You can learn more about how vaccines are developed here.
The vaccine will be free to receive and not compulsory. There will be three different places to get it: hospitals; vaccination centres that are being set up, like Nightingale hospitals, in sports centres and town halls; and eventually through from GPs and pharmacists in the community.
Around 50 hospitals are on stand-by and vaccination centres are being set up now, the BBC report says. The chief executive of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, said the health service was preparing for "the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country's history".
The promising news does not mean people ought not to remain vigilant however, experts highlighted.
People still need to take steps to protect themselves and others, such as social distancing, using face masks, and self-isolating if exposed. The UK’s chief medical advisor, Chris Whitty, highlighted that “we can’t let our guard down yet.”
Meanwhile, there is still a great need to ensure that, as COVID-19 vaccines emerge, they are also made available to all people, everywhere — not just in the countries that can afford them.
We’ve already seen how quickly COVID-19 spreads across borders, meaning that no one is safe from the virus until we are all safe.
Launched in April by seven global partners, the ACT-Accelerator is a unique coalition aimed at accelerating global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic. Its members are working together to develop tests, treatments, and vaccines as quickly as possible, while also strengthening the world’s most fragile health systems to ensure everyone has access to these anti-COVID-19 tools.
But the organisation desperately needs financial support from governments around the world. You can join us in calling on world leaders to fund the ACT-Accelerator by taking action here.