FILE PHOTO: Syringes are seen in front of displayed Biontech and Pfizer logos in this illustration taken November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Providing hope and optimism that the end of the pandemic is finally in sight, the UK has become the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine for widespread use.

Jumping ahead of its counterparts in the United States and Europe, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on Wednesday (Dec 2) cleared a shot developed by Pfizer/BioNTech for emergency use in record time.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has announced that the vaccine will be rolled out from early next week, although it is highly unlikely community pharmacy will have a direct involvement in the current rollout due to logistical challenges of the vaccine which has stringent storage requirements.

“The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency 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 DH said in a statement today. 

The government touted the approval as a global win and a ray of good hope amid the gloom as big powers around the world race to approve an array of vaccines and inoculate their citizens.

“I’m obviously absolutely thrilled with the news, very proud that the UK is the first place in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine,” health secretary Matt Hancock said.

The government’s vaccine body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – will now decide which priority groups will get the jab first: care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be first in line.

“To aid the success of the vaccination programme it is vital everyone continues to play their part and abide by the necessary restrictions in their area so we can further suppress the virus and allow the NHS to do its work without being overwhelmed,” the DH said.

Hancock said hospitals were ready to receive the shots and vaccination centres would be set up across the country but he admitted distribution would be a challenge given that the vaccine must be shipped and stored at -70C, the sort of temperature typical of an Antarctic winter.

In a statement, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens told Pharmacy Business: “This is an important next step in our response to the Coronavirus pandemic and hospitals will shortly kick off the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.

“The NHS has a proven track record of delivering large scale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to BCG and, once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in England’s hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a programme that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months.”

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have said their vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing illness, much higher than expected.

The U.S. drugmaker said Britain’s emergency use authorization marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19.

“This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK,” said CEO Albert Bourla.

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