The United Kingdom became the first Western nation to grant emergency-use authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine, clearing a shot developed by Pfizer of the United State and BioNTech of Germany to be distributed in limited numbers within days.
The two-shot vaccine is also being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., where a similar authorization could come later this month and a rollout before the end of the year.
Department of Health and Social Care confirmed in a statement to British news agencies that the vaccine developed jointly by American drug maker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech would be distributed starting next week.
Pfizer was the first of three major Western pharmaceutical companies to apply in both the U.S. and Europe for emergency use authorization.
“The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the Independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use,” a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told the Press Association of Britain.
The spokesman said the emergency use authorization followed “months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
Other countries aren’t far behind: The US and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc.
New Zealand has pre-ordered 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That’s enough to protect 750,000 people, as a double dose of the vaccine is needed.
A widespread rollout of the vaccine could still be a while away, however, as it still requires approval from Med safe.
Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the UK and has been gearing up for even wider distribution if given a similar nod by the US Food and Drug Administration, a decision expected as early as next week.
But doses everywhere are scarce, and initial supplies will be rationed until more is manufactured in the first several months of next year.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called the UK decision “a historic moment”.
“We are focusing on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world,” Bourla said in a statement.
Two doses three weeks apart are required for protection. First, in line, the UK government says, are frontline health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by older adults.
By Christabel Airo