The UK today (Dec. 2) approved a Covid-19 vaccine, known as BNT162b2, and developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, for emergency use in the general public, making it the first western country to do so.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) received data from Pfizer and BioNTech‘s vaccine candidate—including “results from lab and clinical trials in humans, manufacturing and quality controls, product sampling, and testing of the final product”—on Nov. 23. After assessing the data for “safety, quality, and effectiveness,” MHRA recommended that the government give BNT162b2 emergency approval, which it did today. In a press release, the government said the vaccine “will be made available across the UK from next week.”
The UK purchased 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which it says is enough to vaccinate about a third of its population. It also ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and smaller quantities of five other vaccine candidates, for a total of 355 million doses.
In guidance released today (pdf) the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a group of experts that advises UK health departments on vaccines, said BNT162b2 “appears to be safe and well-tolerated.” It also said there were “no clinically concerning safety observations” and it appeared to be highly effective “in all age groups” over 16 and a half. The JCVI recommended that people receive two doses of the vaccine, according to an order outlined below.
Though much remains unclear about the distribution and logistics of this unprecedented vaccination drive, The Telegraph reported that the first jabs could be given out to frontline healthcare workers as early as Monday (Dec. 7). That’s consistent with the JCVI’s guidance on priority groups:
In its guidance, the JCVI estimated (pdf, p. 9) that, together, these groups account for almost all cases of preventable deaths from Covid-19. It added that, once these groups have been vaccinated, a next priority could be “those at increased risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 due to their occupation,” including “first responders, the military, those involved in the justice system, teachers, transport workers, and public servants essential to the pandemic response.”
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration will soon debate whether to approve BNT162b2, and an independent panel of experts advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted last night to recommend that healthcare workers, as well as residents and employees of nursing homes, should get the first doses of the vaccine. The CDC will decide whether to accept this recommendation next week.