Dec. 11, 2020, 12:30 p.m. EST

Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine could be approved ‘within days,’ with U.K. set to be first to start COVID-19 shots

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By Lina Saigol

The U.K. is set to become the first country in the world to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, with the country’s medical regulator likely to give approval “within days,” according to media reports .

The experimental vaccine being developed by drugmaker Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.57% and its partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -0.91% could be delivered hours after receiving approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said a report in the Financial Times , quoting government officials.

The first jabs could take place from Dec. 7, the FT said. Its report was later confirmed by Bloomberg , which cited a person familiar with the situation.

The U.K. has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, which was shown to have an efficacy rate of 95% in people over 65 years in a Phase 3 trial.

The MHRA declined to comment on the reports, but reiterated its Nov. 23 statement that said a decision on whether to approve the Pfizer–BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will be made in the  “shortest time possible,”  after receiving further data on the shot.

Read: Decision on approving Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine to be made in ‘shortest time possible,’ U.K. regulator says

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it would meet on  Dec. 10  to discuss whether to authorize use of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine.

On Sunday, the U.K.’s Department of Health said it had increased its order for a vaccine developed by U.S. biotech Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -0.73% from 5 million to 7 million doses, enough for 3.5 million people . Moderna’s experimental shot has shown to be 95% effective in Phase 3 trials.

Moderna said on Monday that it plans to request an emergency-use authorization “today” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Read: Moderna’s stock soars after plan to file for emergency approval of COVID-19 vaccine candidate

The U.K. has now secured access to a total of 357 million doses of vaccines from seven different developers. This includes 100 million doses of the vaccine being developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.85% and the University of Oxford.

“With a wide range of vaccine candidates in our portfolio, we stand ready to deploy a vaccine should they receive approval from our medicines regulator, starting with those who will benefit most,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.

Read: U.K. Pushes for AstraZeneca Vaccine Approval Amid Questions Over Trial Data

The government on Saturday appointed Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi as a new health minister to oversee rollout of the COVID vaccine in England. The government has said that frontline health-care workers and nursing-home residents will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by older people, starting with those over 80.

Hopes of an imminent vaccine rollout come as the number of coronavirus cases in England fell by a third after the rollout of lockdown measures in November, according to a new study by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori.

The React-1 Study , published on Monday, was based on swabbing 105,000 people between Nov. 13 and 24.

The findings showed that an estimated 0.96% of England’s population has the virus, or around 1 in 100 people. That is roughly a 30% drop in the number of infections compared with previous findings, where more than one in 80, or 1.3% of people, had the virus as of Nov. 2.

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