British officials authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Wednesday, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.
The go-ahead for the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the United States and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and morgues in some places and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated economies.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the U.K., recommended the vaccine could be used after it reviewed the results of clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95% effective overall – and that it also offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.
Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc. British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K. – and has been gearing up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decision expected as early as next week.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called the U.K. decision “a historic moment.”
“We are focusing on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world,” Bourla said in a statement.
While the U.K. has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 20 million people, it’s not clear how many will arrive by year’s end. Hancock said the U.K. expects to receive “millions of doses” by the end of this year, adding that the actual number will depend on how fast Pfizer can produce the vaccine.
One concern about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is that it must be stored and shipped at ultra-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), adding to the challenge of distributing the vaccine around the world.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File
News source: The Associated Press