The UK has become the first western country to license a vaccine against Covid, opening the way for mass immunisation with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to begin in those most at risk.
The vaccine has been authorised for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), ahead of decisions by the US and Europe. The MHRA was given power to approve the vaccine by the government under special regulations before 1 January, when it will become fully responsible for medicines authorisation in the UK after Brexit.
The first doses of the vaccine will arrive in the coming days, said the company. The UK has bought 40m doses of the vaccine, which has been shown to have 95% efficacy in its final trials.
“Today’s emergency use authorisation in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19. This authorisation is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK,” said Albert Bourla, the chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer.
“As we anticipate further authorisations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world. With thousands of people becoming infected, every day matters in the collective race to end this devastating pandemic.”
Although the vaccine has to be kept at -70C, the companies say it can be stored for up to five days in a fridge, at 2-8°C. The first priority groups for vaccination are care home residents, who may not be able to come to a vaccination centre, together with the staff who look after them. At fridge temperatures, it may be possible for the vaccine to be brought to them. Next in line will be the over-80s and NHS staff.
The trial data showed the vaccine had equal efficacy among younger volunteers and those over 65 who are most at risk from Covid. Gender, race and ethnicity also made no difference.