Britain approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the United States and Europe to become the West’s first country to formally endorse a jab it said should reach the most vulnerable people early next week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson touted the medicine authority’s approval as a global win and a ray of hope amid the gloom of the novel coronavirus which has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally, hammered the world economy and upended normal life.
Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) granted emergency use approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which they say is 95% effective in preventing illness, in record time – just 23 days since Pfizer published the first data from its final stage clinical trial.
“It’s fantastic,” Johnson said. “The vaccine will begin to be made available across the UK from next week. It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”
The world’s big powers have been racing for a vaccine for months in an attempt to be first to begin the long road to recovery.
The approval of a vaccine for use almost exactly a year since the novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, is a triumph for science, Pfizer boss Albert Bourla and his German biotechnology partner BioNTech.
China has already given emergency approval for three experimental vaccines and has inoculated around 1 million people since July. Russia has been vaccinating frontline workers after approving its Sputnik V shot in August before it had completed late-stage testing on safety and efficacy.
But the European Union’s drug regulator said on Wednesday that its longer approval process for COVID-19 vaccines was safer, as it was based on more evidence and checks that the emergency procedure chosen by Britain.
British leaders said that, while they would love to get a jab themselves, priority had to be given to those most in need – the elderly, those in care homes and health workers.