The United Kingdom on Wednesday became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, paving the way for mass vaccinations against the deadly novel coronavirus.
The British regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), says the jab, which claims to offer up to 95 per cent protection against COVID-19 illness, is safe for roll out.
The joint vaccine, produced by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, had recently claimed trials suggested it works well in people of all ages, races and ethnicities.
The UK government had asked the MHRA to look into the data to clear it for use if it meets ‘robust’ standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness.
The UK is expected to receive a total of 40 million doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate up to a third of the population, with the majority of doses anticipated in the first half of next year.
“If approval is granted, the NHS (National Health Service) will be ready to deliver. The NHS has vast experience in delivering widespread vaccination programmes and an enormous amount of work has taken place to ensure we have the logistical expertise, transport and workforce to roll out a vaccine according to clinical priority, at the speed at which it can be manufactured,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said last month.
The UK government stressed that the COVID-19 vaccine will only be authorised for supply by the UK’s independent regulator if it meets strict standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness, and if they are satisfied the vaccine can be consistently manufactured.
The MHRA is the UK’s independent regulator, hailed as a globally recognised institution for requiring the highest standards for quality, safety and effectiveness.
The vaccine will be manufactured in BioNTech’s German sites, as well as Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium.
The UK government said it remains confident that the cold supply chain needed to distribute the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will not cause any problems or delays.
When the vaccine is stored in a fridge, it has an effective life of up to five days at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees, which will allow it to be easily stored at distribution centres.
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