By Jack Denton
The U.K. has approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for emergency use, paving the way for vaccinations to begin weeks ahead of most of the world.
The approval by U.K. medical regulators comes as their counterparts in the U.S., European Union, and other countries around the world prepare to deliver their own verdict on promising COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccine from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.02% and its German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +5.96% is scheduled for formal assessment in the U.S. and EU within the next month, while in the U.K. vaccinations with the two-shot jab will begin for priority populations across the country.
Of the 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that the U.K. has ordered, 800,000 — enough to vaccinate 400,000 people — will arrive in the U.K. in the coming days, with a total of around 10 million doses available soon.
The first jabs will be targeted toward health-care workers, care home residents, the elderly, and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is the first regulator to approve a vaccine based on large-scale clinical trials for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and it may approve others soon.
The government has formally asked the MHRA to review the vaccine in development from British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN -0.60% and the University of Oxford, while the vaccine from U.S. biotech Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +7.05% has also yet to be approved.
When is regulatory approval likely to happen in other countries?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be authorized for use.
On Monday, Moderna asked the FDA for emergency approval of its vaccine candidate.
It is likely that any vaccine in the U.S. would be made available first to high-risk health-care workers as well as residents and staff of care homes, after an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to recommend that strategy on Tuesday.
Top U.S. health officials have said that the first Americans would receive vaccinations against COVID-19 within two days of regulatory approval.
According to media reports , President Donald Trump and his advisers have pushed FDA officials to move faster on authorization, in part because the administration feels like it is being outpaced by European countries.
The European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s regulator, said that its formal assessment of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine would come by Dec. 29, while the assessment for Moderna’s vaccine will happen by Jan. 12.