The UK has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use, becoming the first country in the world to do so, adding that it will be rolled out from next week.
“The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use,” the government said in a statement.
It added that the “vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.”
The UK’s vaccine committee will decide which priority groups will get the jab first such as care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
US-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and US biotech firm Moderna, have reported preliminary findings of more than 90 percent effectiveness – an unexpectedly high rate – in trials of their vaccines, which are both based on new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
The UK is one of Europe’s most affected countries, with more than 1.6 million cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the pandemic began in late 2019. More than 59,000 people have died with the virus, according to official figures by the John Hopkins University.
Pfizer said the UK’s emergency use authorisation marks an 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,” said CEO Albert Bourla.
“As we anticipate further authorisations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world.”
The US and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with the vaccine by competitor Moderna.
Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the UK and has been getting ready up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the US Food and Drug Administration.
UK regulators are also considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has, however warned “we must first navigate a hard winter” of restrictions to try to curb the virus until there is enough vaccine to go around.
Every country has different rules for determining when an experimental vaccine is safe and effective enough to use.
Pfizer has reported no serious side effects, although vaccine recipients may experience temporary pain and flu-like reactions immediately after injections.
Yet, experts have cautioned that a vaccine cleared for emergency use is still experimental and final testing must be completed. Still to be determined is whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shots protect against people spreading the coronavirus without showing symptoms.
Another question is how long protection lasts and there is no information on its effects on pregnant women.
The vaccine has also only been tested in a small number of children, none younger than 12.