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Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine approved in UK

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine approved in UK

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LONDON – Britain approved Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation programme in history.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson touted the green light from Britain’s medicine authority as a global win and a ray of hope for the end of the pandemic, though he recognised the logistical challenges of vaccinating an entire country of 67 million.

Britain’s move raised hopes that the tide could soon turn against a virus that has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally, hammered the world economy and upended normal life for billions since it emerged in Wuhan, China, a year ago.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) granted emergency use approval to the vaccine developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology partner BioNTech, which they say is 95 per cent effective in preventing illness, just 23 days after Pfizer published the first data from its final stage clinical trial.

“Fantastic news,” Johnson told parliament. “At this stage it is very, very important that people do not get their hopes up too soon about the speed with which we will be able to roll out this vaccine.”

International drugmakers and researchers have been racing to develop vaccines for months and Britain’s authorisation coming first may be seen as a coup for a government that has faced criticism over its handling of the crisis.

U.S. and European Union (EU) regulators are sifting through the same Pfizer vaccine trial data, but have yet to give their approval.

Britain’s swift decision drew criticism from Brussels where, in an unusually blunt statement, the EU regulator said its longer procedure was more appropriate and based on more evidence.

Johnson might be persuaded to take a COVID-19 shot on television to show it was safe, but he would not have one before those in greater need, his press secretary said.

Britain said it would start vaccinating those most at risk of dying early next week after it gets 800 000 doses from Pfizer’s manufacturing centre in Belgium, and UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said tests on that first batch had been completed.

Hours after the British announcement, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities to begin mass voluntary vaccinations next week. Russia will have produced 2 million doses of its own vaccine within the next few days, Putin said.

Pfizer vaccine executive Ralf Rene Reinert said other countries were looking to emulate Britain.

“The UK is leading, and now let’s see how the other countries move forward. And Pfizer will do everything to exchange all the data packages with every regulatory agency,” he said.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said EU member states could have issued similar emergency approvals, but Europe had decided to move forward as one.

“It’s very important we do this to help promote trust and confidence in this authorisation,” he said.

Britain is bound by European law until the transition period ends on December31, but opted for emergency approval anyway. (Reuters)