Britain has given emergency approval to a new COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, becoming the world's first western nation ready to begin mass inoculations against a disease that has sickened nearly 64 million people worldwide, including more than 1.4 million deaths.
The government’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority granted approval Wednesday for the vaccine, which Pfizer developed along with Germany’s BioNTech. The first vaccinations will begin next week, with staffers of the Britain’s National Health Service, nursing home residents and staffers expected to receive first priority.
The approval comes weeks after Pfizer announced the vaccine had been shown to be over 90% effective after its final, widespread clinical trials. Britain has already pre-ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
"Today’s emergency use authorization in the U.K. marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19," said Pfizer chairman and chief executive officer Albert Bourla.
"As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world," Bourla added. "With thousands of people becoming infected, every day matters in the collective race to end this devastating pandemic."
The European Union is considering granting emergency approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as well as another developed by U.S.-based Moderna, which has proved to be 94% effective in late-stage clinical trials. EU officials are expected to decide on at least one of the vaccines by the end of December.
Pfizer and Modenra have also applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization of their vaccines in the United States. If granted, inoculations in the U.S. could begin as soon as mid-December.
News of Britain’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine comes a day after an advisory committee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be among the first Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices voted 13-1 Tuesday to give a vaccine, as soon as it’s approved, to some of the 24 million Americans who are healthcare workers or nursing home residents, while supplies are still limited as production ramps up.
The committee’s decision comes as the United States posts record numbers of coronavirus cases across the country. The U.S. recorded 4.36 million cases of COVID-19 in November — roughly double the number from a month earlier.
The only dissenting vote was cast by Dr. Helen Talbot, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Talbot said she objected to including nursing home residents in the first group because the vaccine’s safety and efficacy had not been tested in that particular group.
The CDC is also set to revise the current recommended 14-day quarantine period for someone who has been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Under the proposed new guidelines, the self-isolation period will be shortened to 10 days, or 7 days if they receive a negative test result.
The Trump administration has said that 20 million people could be inoculated by the end of this year.
As it has for months, the United States continues to lead the world in coronavirus infections, with nearly 13.7 million cases and more than 270,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. [[ COVID-19 Map - Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (jhu.edu) ]] The U.S. has 98,691 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project, making it the highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic reached the nation’s shores.
Since it began nearly a year ago, the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased the number of people who are experiencing extreme poverty, according to the United Nations.
The world body said in its annual humanitarian report that 235 million people, or one in 33 people, will require basic needs like food, water and sanitation in 2021, a 40% increase from this year.
The U.N. report said the greatest need for humanitarian assistance next year is in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
The United Nations contributed a record $17 billion in 2020 for humanitarian response worldwide, the report said.