UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for roll-out next week

2 Dec 2020

Image: © raquel/

Pfizer’s CEO said the approval of the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK marked a ‘historic moment’.

The UK has become the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use.

The government said today (2 December) that it accepted the recommendation from the country’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to authorise the vaccine for emergency use.

“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health said in a statement.

They added that this follows “months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts”, who concluded that the vaccine has met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.

The country’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations will soon publish advice for priority groups to receive the vaccine, which will include care home residents, health and care staff, elderly people and clinically vulnerable people.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted that “help is on its way”, and told BBC News that people will be contacted by the country’s health service when it is their turn for a vaccine jab. The UK has ordered 40m doses of the vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 20m people as two doses will be needed per person.

‘Historic moment’

In a statement this morning, Pfizer said that this announcement constitutes the first emergency use authorisation following a worldwide phase-three trial of a coronavirus vaccine, while other emergency approvals have preceded the conclusion of such trials. It added that the company is anticipating further regulatory decisions across the globe in the coming days and weeks.

Albert Bourla, chair and chief executive officer of Pfizer, described it as a “historic moment in the fight against Covid-19”.

“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,” he said. “With thousands of people becoming infected, every day matters in the collective race to end this devastating pandemic.”

The first doses are expected to arrive in the UK in the coming days, with complete delivery fulfilment expected in 2021.

The latest phase-three trial results indicated that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine could be up to 95pc effective against Covid-19. It is a mRNA vaccine, which uses part of the virus’ genetic code to trigger the body’s immune system to fight the virus.

A potential challenge in the distribution of the vaccine is that it needs to be stored at up to minus-70 degrees Celsius. However, Pfizer said it has experience in cold-chain shipping and has an established infrastructure to supply the vaccine worldwide, including distribution hubs that can store vaccine doses for up to six months.

Pfizer and BioNTech have also developed temperature-controlled shippers for the vaccine, which can maintain recommended storage conditions for extended periods of time using dry ice.

The companies said their combined manufacturing network has the potential to supply up to 50m vaccine doses globally in 2020 and up to 1.3bn doses by the end of 2021.

There are other promising vaccine candidates that could also be approved soon, including one from Moderna.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic