Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve AstraZeneca and a low-cost COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University, raising hopes it will help tackle rising cases and ease pressure on creaking health services.
The Independent Medicines and Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the vaccine “met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness”, and a roll-out was set for January 4.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, which has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, said it had accepted a recommendation from MHRA to grant emergency authorization.
The approval is a vindication for a shot seen as essential for mass immunizations in the developing world as well as in Britain but does not eliminate questions about trial data that make it unlikely to be approved so rapidly in the European Union or the United States.
“The NHS (National Health Service) will be able to deliver these shots into people’s arms at the speed at which it can be manufactured,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.
“I am also now, with this approval this morning, highly confident that we can get enough vulnerable people vaccinated by the spring that we can now see our route out of this pandemic.”
Prime Minister Johnson, who spent several days in intensive care with COVID earlier this year, called it “truly fantastic news” and “a triumph for British science”.
According to Hancock, hundreds of thousands of doses would be available to administer next week in Britain, which is already rolling out a vaccine developed by Pfizer of the United States and BioNTech of Germany.
Britain has already approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for general use, and some 800,000 people have received the first dose in the country’s biggest-ever vaccination drive.
But as daily COVID-19 infection rates hit record highs, the government is pinning its hopes on the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, which is cheaper to produce, and easier to store and transport.
Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it does not require ultra-low freezing temperatures and can use normal refrigerated supply chains, making it a more attractive proposition globally.
(Input from agencies)