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UK approves use of Pfizer; first country in the world

10:44 PM Dec 02, 2020 | Aditi Khanna

This is historic: UK has become the first country – much ahead of the US -- to approve the use of Pfizer vaccine for mass inoculations.

About 800,000 doses — enough to vaccinate 400,000 people because it is administered in two shots — will be made available in Britain 'from next week'.

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The British regulator said the jab, which claims to offer up to 95 per cent protection against Covid-19, is safe for roll out. The nod came as England came out of its second national lockdown and shops reopened for 'wild Wednesday.' The regulator insists that despite the fast-track approval, the vaccine had been assessed 'with meticulous care' and 'no corners had been cut'.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the "fantastic" news and confirmed that the vaccine will be made available from next week. "It's the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again," Johnson, a COVID-19 survivor, said.

The vaccines require two doses 21 days apart, with strong immunity response kicking in after seven days of the second dose. The UK regulator said it will continue to monitor the data on a rolling basis once the vaccines are deployed among the British public.

"I am thrilled. Help is on its way. We can see the dawn. Let's redouble our efforts to follow the lockdown rules," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The priority groups which will receive the vaccine include care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable. Teachers, soldiers, and bus drivers could be first in line for the vaccine once all over-50s and 'at-risk' have been inoculated.

The vaccine is already on its way to Britain: the first lorries loaded with doses have left Belgium, the Daily Mail said.

While Britain, which broke away from the European Union’s regulatory orbit to approve the shot early, has leapfrogged over other countries, it will have no effect on the distribution of the hundreds of millions of doses that other wealthy countries have procured in prepaid contracts.

It also offers little relief to poorer countries that could not afford to buy supplies in advance and may struggle to pay for both the vaccines and the exceptional demands of distributing them, reports the New York Times.

The global race to develop a vaccine has just started: Around the world, researchers are testing 57 vaccines in clinical trials, and nearly 100 others are being tested in animals or cells. China and Russia have already approved vaccines without waiting for the results of the Phase 3 trials, which experts say pose serious risks.

The Pfizer vaccine in particular also poses challenges of transportation and storage because this must be done at -70C. To keep doses of the jab at this ultra-low temperature, they needs to be packaged with dry ice and placed in a special transport box the size of a suitcase. Around 50 hospitals are on standby and vaccination centres in venues such as conference centres are being set up, with military personnel being deployed to assist with the logistics.

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