UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine; first doses expected next week
The United Kingdom on Wednesday gave emergency approval to Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first Western country to allow mass immunization against the viral disease. The vaccine, which has been shown to have 95% efficacy in late-stage clinical trials, will be made available across the country for at-risk groups starting next week. The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine.
Vaccine meets 'strict standards of safety, quality, effectiveness'
The vaccine has been given emergency approval by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA). Experts at MHRA concluded that the vaccine has met "strict standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness," a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson was quoted as saying by The Guardian. Russia and China have already approved vaccines, albeit without the results of large-scale efficacy tests.
'Panel to publish advice for priority groups to receive vaccine'
The spokesperson added, "The joint committee on vaccination and immunization 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."
10 million doses to arrive this year: Health Secretary
The delivery of the 40 million doses will start immediately. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he expects 10 million doses to arrive this year. Care home residents are first in line to receive the vaccine, followed by people aged over 80 and the National Health Service staff. Pfizer and BioNTech said they can supply 50 million doses in 2020 and 1.3 billion by 2021-end.
US, Europe to approve vaccine within weeks
The United States, which has pre-ordered 100 million doses, and Europe, which has bought 200 million, are also expected to approve the vaccine within weeks. The UK's approval of the vaccine before the US—particularly one developed by an American company—is set to put pressure on US regulators. Notably, the MHRA has approved the vaccine within just a week, which is unprecedented.
Vaccine uses mRNA technology; 95% effective
Another first attached to the Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine is that the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology it uses has never been used for an approved vaccine. Late-stage trial data found the vaccine has 95% efficacy and was equally effective among younger and older volunteers. The vaccine has to be kept at low temperatures of -70°C, which is a challenge for its delivery.
Vaccine will help reduce hospitalizations among high-risk groups: BioNTech co-founder
Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said in a statement, "The emergency use authorization in the UK will mark the first time citizens outside of the trials will have the opportunity to be immunized against COVID-19." He added, "We believe that the rollout of the vaccination program in the UK will reduce the number of people in the high-risk population being hospitalized."
'Historic moment in fight against COVID-19'
"Today's emergency use authorization in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said, "We are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world."