Britain on Wednesday became the first country to authorize an easy-to-handle COVID-19 vaccine whose developers hope it will become the “vaccine for the world.” The approval and a shift in policy that will speed up rollout of the vaccine in the U.K. come as a surge in infections threatens to swamp British hospitals.
The Department of Health said it had accepted a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to authorize emergency use of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
“The rollout will start on Jan. 4 and will really accelerate into the first few weeks of next year,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told told Sky News. Britain has bought 100 million doses of the vaccine.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.K. have already received a different vaccine, made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.
Soriot said it was “an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Coronavirus vaccines have typically been given in two doses, with an initial shot followed by a booster about three weeks later.
But in a change of approach, the British government said that with the AstraZeneca vaccine it would prioritize giving as many people as possible a single dose, which is believed to give a large measure of protection against the virus. It said people at the highest risk would get priority, and everyone would get a second jab within 12 weeks of the first.
The new strategy comes against a backdrop of soaring infections in the U.K. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has surpassed the first peak of the outbreak in the spring, with authorities blaming a new, more transmissible variant of the virus, first identified in southeast England, for the spike.
Oxford University’s Dr. Andrew Pollard, one of the leaders of the development team, offered hope the newly approved vaccine will help.
“At the moment, there’s no evidence that the vaccines won’t work against the new variant,” Pollard told Radio 4. “But that is something which we have to look at. We can’t be complacent about this variant or perhaps future variants.”
Partial results from studies in almost 24,000 people in Britain, Brazil and South Africa suggest the shots are safe and about 70% effective for preventing illness from coronavirus infection.
That’s not as good as some other vaccine candidates, but Soriot recently told the Sunday Times newspaper that he was confident the vaccine would prove as effective as its rivals.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be relied on in many countries because of its low cost, availability and ease of use. It can be kept in refrigerators rather than the ultra-cold storage some other vaccines require. The company has said it will sell it for $2.50 a dose and plans to make up to 3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
Photo credit: University of Oxford / John Cairns via AP, File
News source: The Associated Press