The United Kingdom on Wednesday granted temporary authorization for emergency use of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to adults age 16 and older, with the first 800,000 doses of the two-dose vaccine slated to be offered in the country next week.
This makes the UK the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA-based vaccine and the first government approval of a vaccine backed by a clinical trial. (Some countries like Russia and China began administering their Covid-19 vaccines before completing large-scale trials.) It’s also the fastest a vaccine has ever gained approval, albeit on a temporary basis.
“I’m confident now, with the news today, that from spring, from Easter onward, things are going to be better,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a press conference. “And we’re going to have summer next year that everyone can enjoy.”
The UK’s health regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), granted the temporary authorization shortly after Pfizer and BioNTech reported in November that their Covid-19 vaccine was 95 percent effective. Though this is a temporary authorization, the MHRA is conducting a rolling review of vaccine trial data as it comes in and may grant full approval at a later date. In contrast, the US Food and Drug Administration is evaluating vaccines based on completed studies, which increases the length of the approval process.
The UK government reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to purchase 40 million doses of the vaccine through 2021 — enough for 20 million people — mainly shipped from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium.
“This authorization 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 U.K.,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, in a statement.
The UK has been one of the most severely afflicted countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 1.6 million reported infections and almost 60,000 deaths in a population of 66 million. The government recently imposed a second national lockdown as cases spiked; restrictions on movement and which businesses can stay open may begin to relax this week as the number of new cases declines. But with winter approaching, the risk of more Covid-19 spread in the UK remains high.
The UK is prioritizing older adults to receive a Covid-19 vaccine
With limited doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to give out for the time being, the UK is establishing several priority tiers for Covid-19 immunization.
The country’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on Wednesday laid out guidelines for administering the vaccine based mainly on age. The top priority is residents and workers at care homes for older adults, a ranking based on the number of vaccinations that would be needed in each tier to prevent one death, not necessarily risk of exposure. Read Full Article >