LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - Britain on Wednesday (Dec 2) became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use and said that it will be rolled out from early next week.
"The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for use," the British government said.
"The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week."
Britain's vaccine committee will decide which priority groups will get the jab first, such as care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and United States biotech firm Moderna have reported preliminary findings of more than 90 per cent effectiveness - an unexpectedly high rate - in trials of their vaccines, which are both based on new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
Pfizer said Britain's emergency use authorisation marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19.
"This authorisation is a goal we have been working towards since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for its ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK," said Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla.
"As we anticipate further authorisations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the programme would begin early next week. Hospitals, he said, were already ready to receive it. "It is very good news," Mr Hancock said.
The announcement came as England exited a month-long coronavirus lockdown, but most of the country remained under restrictions as a new regional system for cutting infection rates kicked in.
The four-week lockdown, which began in November, was imposed to stop surging rates of infection, ease pressure on health services, and to allow families to gather for Christmas.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Covid-19 survivor, succeeded in winning a vote on the measures in parliament late Tuesday, despite significant opposition within his own Conservative ranks.
"All we need to do now is to hold our nerve until these vaccines are indeed in our grasp and indeed being injected into our arms," he told lawmakers before the vote.
Until then "we cannot afford to relax, especially during the cold months of winter", he warned.