“In years to come, we will look back and remember this moment as the day the United Kingdom led humanity’s charge against this terrible disease,” said Business Secretary Alok Sharma, as the Global Indian minister celebrated the good news of the UK emerging as the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19.
The minister, who played a crucial role in overseeing the acquisition and approval process of the vaccine, struck a note of caution that while the breakthrough is a positive one, it will not end the pandemic overnight.
He said: “Since the start of the pandemic, every single person has made an immense sacrifice to protect themselves, their loved ones and the health of our nation. Through it all, we have remained united to defeat a virus that has taken too many before their time.
“As a nation we owe every scientist, clinician and trial volunteer an enormous debt of gratitude for their victory won against odds that at times seemed impossible. It is thanks to their efforts, and of our Vaccine Taskforce, that the UK was the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech and will now be the first to deploy their vaccine.”
The UK claims to be the first country to pre-order supplies of the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, with 800,000 doses being made available next week and 40 million doses ordered overall – enough to vaccinate up to a third of the population, and the majority of doses anticipated in the first half of next year.
Tens of thousands of people at the highest risk of death from Covid-19 will start receiving the vaccine from next week after experts from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech for use.
The vaccine is given in two doses – three weeks apart – and data from clinical trials showed the vaccine is 94 per cent effective in protecting people over the age of 65 from coronavirus, with trials suggesting it works equally well in people of all ages, races and ethnicities. There were also no serious safety concerns reported in the trials.
In line with the recommendations of the independent Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the vaccine will be rolled out to the priority groups including care home residents and staff, people over 80 and health and care workers, then to the rest of the population in order of age and risk, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
The MHRA has stressed that the vaccine is complete safe for use as no “corners have been cut” in ensuring a rigorous checking process despite the speeded-up timeline. In making the recommendation to authorise supply, the MHRA will decide what additional quality assurance checks may be required before a vaccine can be made available. Pfizer will then deliver the vaccines to the UK as soon as possible.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “This is a momentous occasion and provides fresh hope that we can beat this pandemic, with the UK at the forefront of this revolutionary breakthrough.”