The United Kingdom has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for general use. It will be rolled out to priority groups as early as next week.

According to British regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the vaccine offers up to 95% protection against coronavirus and is safe for general use.

In a statement on Wednesday [December 2], a spokesperson from the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “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.

“This follows 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.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) will soon publish its final advice for which priority groups should receive the vaccine first. These include care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week. The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination,” added the spokesperson.

The BBC reports that the UK has already ordered 40-million doses of the mRNA vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 20-million people. The vaccine works by using a tiny fragment of a genetic code from the coronavirus to teach the body to fight it off and build immunity. This is the very first time an mRNA vaccine has been approved for use in humans.

“The emergency use authorisation in the UK will mark the first time citizens outside of the trials will have the opportunity to be immunised against Covid-19,” said CEO and co-founder of BioNTec, Ugur Sahin.

“We believe that the rollout of the vaccination programme in the UK will reduce the number of people in the high-risk population being hospitalised. Our aim is to bring a safe and effective vaccine upon approval to the people who need it. The data submitted to regulatory agencies around the world are the result of a scientifically rigorous and highly ethical research and development programme.”

Multiple companies across the world have been racing to produce an effective vaccine, and Pfizer is just one of the top contenders.  Other frontrunners include Moderna, who also focus on an mRNA approach, and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

Both Pfizer and Moderna filed for emergency authorisation with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on November 20 and 30 respectively. The advisory committee is expected to meet on December 10 and 17 to consider Pfizer and Moderna’s requests respectively.

If they are approved, the Pfizer vaccine could be delivered on December 15 and Moderna on December 22, according to Operation Warp Speed documents obtained by CNN.

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