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In world first, UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine

It is the first country to do so and roll-out should start next week

LONDON: Britain approved Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine yesterday, jumping ahead of the US and Europe to become the first Western 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 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 per cent effective in preventing illness, in record time - just 23 days since US drugmaker Pfizer published the first data from its final-stage clinical trial.

"It's fantastic," Mr Johnson said. "The vaccine will begin to be made available across the UK from next week."

But the breakneck speed at which approval was given drew criticism from Brussels where, in an unusually blunt statement, the European Union's drugs regulator said its longer procedure to approve vaccines was more appropriate as it was based on more evidence and required more checks.

Pfizer said Britain's emergency use authorisation marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19. The US drugmaker announced its vaccine breakthrough on Nov 9 with stage III clinical trial results.

"No corners have been cut," MHRA chief June Raine said, adding that the first data on the vaccine had been received in June and undergone a rigorous analysis to international standards. "Safety is our watchword."

With 450 people dying of Covid-19 infection every day in Britain, the benefits of rapid vaccine approval outweigh the potential risks," said senior visiting research fellow Andrew Hill in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Liverpool.

PRIORITY

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.

Priority will be given to those most in need - the elderly, those in care homes and health workers.

"Age is by far the single most important factor in terms of risk from Covid-19," said head of Britain's Covid-19 vaccine committee Lim Wei Shen.

Prof Lim said there had been no suggestion a vaccine would be compulsory.

The speed of the roll-out depends on how fast Pfizer can manufacture and deliver the vaccine - and the extreme temperature of -70 deg C at which the vaccine must be stored.

Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine - enough for just under a third of the population as two shots of the jab are needed per person to gain immunity. - REUTERS

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