Story at a glance
- The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency gave the vaccine the greenlight after reviewing data from late-stage clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95 percent effective.
- Government officials said the U.K. is set to receive the first shipment of 800,000 doses within days to begin vaccinating high-risk groups such as the elderly in care homes and health care workers on the front lines.
- Vaccinations are expected to begin next week.
The U.K. on Wednesday became the first country to give emergency authorization to Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine as the virus continues to surge in the United States and Europe.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the U.K.’s regulatory body that licenses drugs in the country, gave the vaccine the greenlight after reviewing data from late-stage clinical trials that showed the vaccine was 95 percent effective, according to The Associated Press (AP).
“The safety of the public will always come first,” June Raine, chief executive of the agency, said during a news conference, AP reports. “And I emphasize again that this recommendation has only been given by the MHRA following the most rigorous scientific assessment of every piece of data.”
Government officials said the U.K. is set to receive the first shipment of 800,000 doses within days to begin vaccinating high-risk groups such as the elderly in care homes and health care workers on the front lines by next week. The U.K. is expecting to receive millions of doses of the vaccine by the end of the year, depending on how fast it can be manufactured.
The vaccine, which requires two doses three weeks apart for protection, must be stored in extremely cold temperatures of about minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit to remain viable, potentially complicating distribution. Pfizer has developed shipping containers that use dry ice to keep the vaccine refrigerated.
Until Wednesday, no country had authorized a coronavirus vaccine that had gone through rigorous testing. Russia and China earlier this year approved vaccines without waiting for data from large-scale efficacy tests.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to make a decision on whether to approve the vaccine for emergency use next week as regulators are still analyzing data from clinical trials.
Britain beat the U.S. to the punch on authorizing the vaccine as the two countries have different regulatory processes. The FDA reviews raw data collected from the drugmakers which it reanalyzes itself, while regulators in the U.K. rely more on reports produced by drug manufacturers, according to The New York Times.
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