The U.K. is set to become the first country in the world to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, with the country’s medical regulator likely to give approval “within days,” according to media reports.
The experimental vaccine being developed by drugmaker Pfizer
and its partner BioNTech
could be delivered hours after receiving approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said a report in the Financial Times, quoting government officials.
The first jabs could take place from Dec. 7, the FT said. Its report was later confirmed by Bloomberg, which cited a person familiar with the situation.
The U.K. has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was shown to have an efficacy rate of 95% in people over 65 years in a Phase 3 trial.
The MHRA declined to comment on the reports, but reiterated its Nov. 23 statement that said a decision on whether to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will be made in the “shortest time possible,” after receiving further data on the shot.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it would meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to authorize use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
On Sunday, the U.K.’s Department of Health said it had increased its order for a vaccine developed by U.S. biotech Moderna
from 5 million to 7 million doses, enough for 3.5 million people. Moderna’s experimental shot has shown to be 95% effective in Phase 3 trials. It has said it would apply for regulatory approval in the U.S. in the coming weeks.
The U.K. has now secured access to a total of 357 million doses of vaccines from seven different developers. This includes 100 million doses of the vaccine being developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca
and the University of Oxford.
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“With a wide range of vaccine candidates in our portfolio, we stand ready to deploy a vaccine should they receive approval from our medicines regulator, starting with those who will benefit most,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.
The government on Saturday appointed Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi as a new health minister to oversee rollout of the COVID vaccine in England. The government has said that frontline health-care workers and nursing-home residents will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by older people, starting with those over 80.
Hopes of an imminent vaccine rollout come as the number of coronavirus cases in England fell by a third after the rollout of lockdown measures in November, according to a new study by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori.
The React-1 Study, published on Monday, was based on swabbing 105,000 people between Nov. 13 and 24.
The findings showed that an estimated 0.96% of England’s population has the virus, or around 1 in 100 people. That is roughly a 30% drop in the number of infections compared with previous findings, where more than one in 80, or 1.3% of people, had the virus as of Nov. 2.
The R number is now 0.88, meaning that the country’s epidemic is currently shrinking rather than growing. The R rate is the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person. It needs to drop below one to curtail the number of infections.
Downward trends were seen across the majority of the country, including in previous hot spots in the north, and most age groups except those of school age, where there has been an increase, the report said.
The study also found that virus infections were halving every 37 days.
The results highlight the uneven impact of the virus, with health workers, people living in large households, and minority-ethnic individuals having a higher risk of infection.
Prof. Paul Elliott, the director of the program at Imperial College who led the study, said the data offered “encouraging signs” for England’s epidemic, which had seen a fall in infections at the national level and in particular across regions that were previously worst affected.
“These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in [the worst-affected areas] and that lockdown has added to this effect,” Elliot said, but warned that “as we approach a challenging time of year, it’s even more vital that through our actions and behaviors we all play our part in helping to keep the virus at bay.”
Hancock also welcomed the study’s findings, but said it was too soon to “take our foot off the pedal.”
The findings from the React-1 study come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing growing opposition from some of his Conservative Party lawmakers for a plan to impose tough restrictions across most of England when the national lockdown ends on Dec. 2.
The new measures will see regions placed in one of three tiers: medium, high, and very high. Lawmakers will vote on the new proposals on Tuesday. Johnson on Saturday pledged to offer them a second vote on the tier system on Feb. 3, 2021, in a bid to appease those lawmakers who aren’t government ministers.