Health authorities in the United Kingdom on Wednesday cleared a vaccine candidate from Oxford University and AstraZeneca for emergency use, making it the second vaccine for COVID-19 to hit the market in that country.
In a statement, the British government stressed that it had a "clear vaccine delivery plan" that was being expanded thanks to the approval of a second vaccine candidate.
"From today the NHS [National Health Service] across the UK will prioritise giving the first dose of the vaccine to those in the most high-risk groups. With two vaccines now approved, we will be able to vaccinate a greater number of people who are at highest risk, protecting them from the disease and reducing mortality and hospitalisation,"read the statement.
The government previously began distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 earlier this month, which soon followed with distribution in the U.S.
The AstraZeneca vaccine could help ramp up vaccinations due to its low cost and ease of use. The vaccine doses do not need to be stored in ultra-cold temperatures like the Pfizer vaccine, so widespread distribution should be easier.
The spread of a new, more infectious form of COVID-19 within the U.K. forced authorities to close down shops, businesses and other public spaces ahead of Christmas. British Cabinet Minister David Gove said Wednesday that the approval of a second vaccine could accelerate an end to those restrictions, according to CNBC.
A third vaccine candidate, produced by drugmaker Moderna, is approved for emergency distribution in the U.S. but has yet to be cleared by British health authorities.
The spread of the coronavirus in the U.K. surged over the past several weeks and now sits higher than at any point previously during the pandemic. The country's health officials reported more than 53,000 new confirmed cases of the virus on Tuesday, its highest single-day total so far.