UK approves Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine; roll-out from next week
The UK on Wednesday approved a Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with 800,000 doses to be administered starting next week, marking the fastest development of any vaccine in history, from the design stage to approval within a year.
The first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, the UK has ordered 40 million doses, with 800,000 doses arriving from its production base in Belgium next week. The UK’s regulator said the coronavirus vaccine was approved after rigorous, scientific and detailed review of rolling data.
The usual prolonged process of vaccine development involving several years of design, clinical trials and regulatory scrutiny has been expedited to within 10 months in the case of Covid-19, marking a new phase in the history of global public health.
June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said “no corners were cut” while assessing the data. The UK’s health officials said the elderly and those above 80 years will be prioritised when the first doses arrive.
Raine said, “We have carried out a rigorous scientific assessment of all the available evidence of quality, safety and effectiveness. The public’s safety has always been at the forefront of our minds - safety is our watchword.”
“I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against Covid-19 - a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way - and in helping to save lives,” she added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the development as “fantastic” while a “thrilled” health secretary Matt Hancock reiterated his belief that normalcy would return by April. Johnson said, “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”
Hancock, however, sounded a note of caution, asking Britons to see through the winter months by following restrictions until coronavirus vaccines are rolled out on a wide scale. “We can’t lower our guard yet,” said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer.
The vaccine with 95% efficacy needs to be initially refrigerated in bulk in “freezer farms” at between minus 70-80 degrees Celsius when doses arrive.
It then has 10 days to reach vaccination centres, and once delivered, it can be stored up to five days in a fridge between 2-8 degrees Celsius, and administered.
Arrangements are being made by the National Health Service (NHS) for mass vaccination across the UK.
An official spokesperson said, “The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large-scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.
“To aid the success of the vaccination programme, it is vital everyone continues to play their part and abide by the necessary restrictions in their area, so we can further suppress the virus and allow the NHS to do its work without being overwhelmed.”
The MHRA is currently analysing data from trials of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. The former is expected to be the mainstay of countering the virus in the UK, India and elsewhere due to its low cost and logistical ease.