The United Kingdom has become the first country to formally approve the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, indicating a huge symbolic milestone in the fight against the pandemic.
The vaccine, which has been authorised for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), offers 95 per cent protection against the virus.
The UK government has bought 40 million doses of the vaccine but will receive an initial batch of 800,000, which will be rolled out next week, according to a report on BBC News.
According to the report, the initial batch will cover a relatively small number of healthcare workers, care home staff and residents, and people over the age of 80.
By the end of the year, the supply will likely ramp up into the “millions,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC.
Nearly 1.5 million people around the world have died from the novel coronavirus, with more than 271,000 deaths in the U.S. and nearly 60,000 in the UK.
The UK has one of the highest COVID-19 deaths per capita in the world, behind only Italy, Spain, Peru, and Belgium, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The vaccine by Pfizer, a U.S. pharmaceutical giant, and its German partner BioNTech, is one of three front-runners that have delivered promising results in recent weeks. Clinical trials found it was 95 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19.
“It’s fantastic. It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
A report on NBCnews quoted the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, as saying, “this authorisation is a goal we have been working towards since we first declared that science will win.”
In the U.S., both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have submitted applications to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency approval.
Moderna, a U.S pharmaceutical firm, on November 16, had announced that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate was 94.5 per cent effective.
The FDA is expected to meet to discuss these vaccines next week and the week after respectively.
BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin told NBC News that he was “confident that an authorisation in the U.S. could also happen within the next two weeks.”
The European Union will wait longer than that; its regulator announcing on Tuesday that it would not make a decision on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine until as late as December 29, and Moderna’s by January 12.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters that it had received data from the companies and was reviewing it for “possible listing for emergency use” — meaning it could be rolled out quicker in developing countries.
The Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, had said efforts are being made to ensure that Nigerians have access to the COVID-19 vaccines when available.
“We have to start preparing Nigerian population for vaccine delivery when it becomes available,” he said.
“Access is a very key issue when it comes to vaccines; that a vaccine is developed does not necessarily translate to being available to those that need it the most.”
The Nigerian government has also inaugurated an 18-member national COVID-19 task team to ensure “vaccine security” when it finally gets to the country.
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