In this undated photo released by Pfizer on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, a thermal shipping box for a COVID-19 candidate vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer is shown in front of a freezers at the company headquarters in Puurs, Belgium. The potential vaccine is awaiting approval to use against the coronavirus. (Pfizer via AP)

In this undated photo released by Pfizer on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, a thermal shipping box for a COVID-19 candidate vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer is shown in front of a freezers at the company headquarters in Puurs, Belgium. The potential vaccine is awaiting approval to use against the coronavirus. (Pfizer via AP)

UK becomes first to authorize Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use

U.K. will begin receiving the first shipment of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ‘within days’

Britain authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for use Wednesday, greenlighting the first shot backed up by rigorous scientific review. The first vaccinations are expected within days — a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.

The go-ahead for the vaccine from American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the United States and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated the global economy. Officials cautioned that several tough months still lie ahead, even in Britain, given the scale of the operation needed to vaccinate large swaths of the population.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses drugs in the U.K., recommended the vaccine for emergency use after it reviewed a raft of data, including the results of clinical trials that showed it was 95% effective and offered significant protection for older people, among those most at risk of dying from the disease. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done.

“This is, without any shadow of a doubt, an historic day,” said David Harper, senior consulting fellow in global health at the Chatham House think-tank . “This is an unprecedented piece of science,” given that the vaccine was authorized less than a year after COVID-19 was discovered.

Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer vaccine along with a similar shot made by competitor Moderna Inc. British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the U.K. will begin receiving the first shipment of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “within days,” and people will start getting the shots as soon as it arrives. Two doses three weeks apart are required for protection.

The U.K. expects to receive “millions of doses” by the end of this year, Hancock said, adding that the exact number will depend on how fast it can be manufactured and checked for quality.

“The doses that we have for the U.K. are currently being packed (by) our colleagues at Pfizer’s facility in Belgium, ready for shipping very, very quickly,” BioNTech’s chief commercial officer, Sean Marett, told reporters Wednesday.

But doses are scarce as production ramps up. BioNTech, which owns the vaccine, has so far signed deals to supply 570 million doses worldwide in 2021, with options to deliver 600 million more, Marett said. It hopes to supply at least 1.3 billion in 2021.

The German company has partnered with Pfizer to deliver the vaccine worldwide, except in China where local company Fosun Pharma will handle distribution.

The BioNTech figures still only represent a fraction of what will be needed as public health officials try to vaccinate much of the world’s population. Experts have said that several vaccines will be needed in order to quickly end the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

In Britain, public health officials plan to offer the vaccine first to those who are most at risk of dying from the disease and those whose jobs put them at risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others. The vaccination program will be expanded to others as supplies become available.

The first vaccines will go to nursing home residents and those who care for them, followed by everyone over 80, and healthcare workers. From there, government plans call for vaccines to be offered roughly on the basis of age groups, starting with the oldest people first.

The drugmakers said they would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K. — and have been gearing up for wider distribution if the shot receives approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decision expected as early as next week.

Despite the speed with which they approved the vaccine, British regulators insisted “no corners have been cut” during the review process.

The MHRA made its recommendation following a rolling review of that allowed it to assess information about the vaccine as soon as it became available. The agency began analysis of preclinical data in October, followed by information on manufacturing and quality assurance and finally the results of the clinical trials.

“The safety of the public will always come first,” Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the agency, said during a news conference. “And I emphasize again that this recommendation has only been given by the MHRA following the most rigorous scientific assessment of every piece of data.”

Getting that message to the public will be critical if any vaccination program is to be successful. Some people are worried about getting any vaccine, never mind a new one.

Jacqueline Roubians, a retired nurse, hopes most people will get the shot.

“A lot of people are skeptical but I think once they understand and see everyone else having it without hesitation, I think you’ll find that people will go and have it,” Roubians, 76, said at Brixton Market in London. “People are dying of COVID, so you make that decision: do you want to die or do you want the vaccine?”

In addition to massive logistical challenge of distributing billons of vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech one must be stored and shipped at ultra-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit).

Pfizer says it has developed shipping containers that use dry ice to keep the vaccine cool. GPS-enabled sensors will allow the company to track each shipment and ensure they stay cold.

The company also says it has agreed to work with other vaccine makers to ensure there is sufficient supply and a range of vaccines, “including those suitable for global access.”

Every country has different rules for determining when an experimental vaccine is safe and effective enough to use. Intense political pressure to be the first to roll out a rigorously scientifically tested shot colored the race in the U.S. and Britain, even as researchers pledged to cut no corners.

In contrast, China and Russia have offered different vaccinations to their citizens ahead of late-stage testing.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech was tested in tens of thousands of people. And while the study isn’t complete, early results suggest the vaccine is 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease. The companies told regulators that of the first 170 infections detected in study volunteers, only eight were among people who’d received the actual vaccine and the rest had gotten a dummy shot.

The companies also reported no serious side effects, although vaccine recipients may experience temporary pain and flu-like reactions immediately after injections.

Still to be determined is whether the shots protect against people spreading the coronavirus without showing symptoms. Another question is how long protection lasts.

The vaccine also has been tested in only a small number of children, none younger than 12, and there’s no information on its effects in pregnant women.

READ MORE: Ottawa must be more transparent regarding COVID-19 vaccine rollout: expert

___

Neergaard reported from Alexandria, Virginia. Associated press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Jill Lawless, Pan Pylas and Jo Kearney in London contributed

__

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Lauran Neergaard And Danica Kirka, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Just Posted

There was high voter turnout for the first of three advance voting days for the Penticton city by-election.
Penticton city by-election general voting day is today, June 19

737 voters on June 9 in comparison to 2018 general election, which had 1,001 on first day

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 Penticton-area men charged with Kamloops brothers’ double homicide

Brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May in Naramata

(File photo)
Penticton not holding Canada Day activities out of respect for Indigenous people

Cities across B.C. are cancelling the holiday after an increased spotlight on Canada’s dark history

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

JAK's Liquor Store in Penticton will be donating 10 per cent of its sales on Saturday, June 19, to the Penticton Salvation Army Food Bank. (Photo from JAKS.com)
Stock up your liquor cabinet and support the Penticton food bank

Jak’s beer and wine store is donating a portion of sales to local food banks Saturday

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Starting in 2022, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is extending dog control to the entire Electoral Area D. (Stock photo)
Dog control bylaw passes in Shuswap area despite ‘threatening’ emails

CSRD board extending full dog control in Electoral Area D starting next year

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Most Read