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UK becomes first country to approve Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Last Updated Dec 2, 2020 at 7:10 am PDT

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

U.K. has approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

U.K. becomes first country to approve COVID-19 vaccine backed by rigorous science

Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K., preparing for other approvals globally

Hospitals in the United Kingdom could be vaccinating their workers against COVID-19 as early as next week as Britain gives Pfizer’s shot the green light for emergency use.

The U.K. has become the first country in the world to approve a COVID-19 vaccine backed by rigorous science, which Pfizer and partner BioNTech have said showed 95 per cent efficacy in trials.

Vaccine rollout could begin as early as next week, with frontline workers expected to receive the first doses, partially because of the difficulty in moving and storing the virus outside of healthcare settings.

It’s the world’s third “approved vaccine,” however, few are looking to Russia as both the country’s vaccines were approved in the absence of late-stage clinical trials and safety data.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, says approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine will follow in the U.S., shortly.

“We’re giving this vaccine to 300 million healthy people as opposed to an EUA for a therapeutic in a sick or dying person. We’re giving this drug to healthy people — it has to be done right,” he told CNN.

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Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K. and it has been gearing up for wider distribution in preparation for a similar nod by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a decision expected as early as next week.

But doses everywhere are scarce and initial supplies will be rationed until more is manufactured in the first several months of next year.

“We are focusing on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement, calling the U.K. decision an “historic moment.”

While the U.K. has ordered enough Pfizer vaccine for 20 million people, it’s not clear how many will arrive by year’s end and adding to the distribution challenges is that it must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approval comes as the U.K. exits a country-wide lockdown and the U.S. faces a COVID-19 situation that is overwhelming hospitals and morgues.

Countries are also vetting a similar vaccine produced by competitor Moderna and another made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Related video: Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine is 94.1% effective

Experts caution that a vaccine cleared for emergency use is still experimental and the final testing must be completed. Still to be determined is whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shots protect against people spreading the coronavirus without showing symptoms. Another question is how long protection lasts.

Canada readying for vaccine rollout

While Canada has yet to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country, health officials have said it shouldn’t be too delayed.

While no firm timeline is available, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand has said the government has put its plans into overdrive to ensure it’s prepared for speedy distribution.

Anand said the date essentially comes down to scientists at Health Canada.

“We are going to roll them out to Canadians as soon as Health Canada has given its approval,” she says.

Four companies have submitted vaccine candidates to Health Canada for approval so far.

Health Canada has been examining vaccine candidates from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca since October, when those companies sent partial data on their drugs for what’s called a “rolling review.”

Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said last week Canada is expecting six-million doses of vaccines in the first quarter of 2021.