British officials have granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the first approved vaccine in the world for the novel coronavirus.
The British population will also become the first in the world to be vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, as the vaccine will be rolled out as early as next week.
Continuing with historic firsts, the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 shot has also become the fastest vaccine to go from bench to bedside, having taken only ten months from development to approval compared to the typical ten-year timeline.
Pfizer said the first doses are already on their way to the UK, with an additional 800,000 due in the coming days. The UK has placed an order for 40 million doses of the vaccine so far, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people (as the vaccine is given in two doses, three weeks apart).
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.
The vaccine was shown to be 95 percent effective in large-scale Phase III clinical trials with no serious side effects reported.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the UK, reviewed results of the clinical trials, which also demonstrated that the vaccine offered significant protection for older people – this is significant for a population that is among those most at risk of serious complications and death from the disease.
As such, elderly people and staff in long term care homes have been placed at the top of a vaccination priority list, followed by people over 80 and healthcare workers.
However, because the vaccine has to be stored at -70°C and hospitals have the appropriate cold storage facilities for it, patients, care home staff and NHS staff will likely be the very first to receive the vaccine to ensure that none of it is wasted. The NHS will also run clinics from the hospital for vaccinations.
Pfizer/BioNTech was the first to publish positive early results from late-stage clinical testing of its investigational vaccine. It has also become the first mRNA vaccine approved for any disease to date. Moderna’s candidate COVID-19 vaccine is also mRNA-based and may be next in line for approval as it also posted positive clinical trial results last month.
Final testing continues for the experimental vaccine. This as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the world, including in the UK where 648 deaths occurred within just 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, with another 16,170 cases reported on Wednesday according to the BBC.