The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and and will be made available from next week, Matt Hancock has said.
The UK becomes the first country in the world to have a “clinically authorised vaccine” to roll out, the health secretary said (Russia has approved a vaccine but there are concerns about safety and its efficacy).
Studies have shown the jab to be 95% effective and works in all age groups. No safety concerns arose from clinical trials.
Some 40m doses have been secured in total, with 10m due in the country by the end of the year.
People will need two doses, meaning enough has been bought for 20m Brits.
They will have to come to Britain from the company’s distribution centre in Belgium, and need to be stored at minus 70C.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning that 800,000 doses of the vaccine will be available next week, with “several millions” more coming throughout December.
He added: “We’ll then deploy at the speed that it’s manufactured, and the manufacturing is, of course, being done by Pfizer in Belgium, so that will determine the speed at which we can roll it out.”
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the vaccination programme would be the “largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history”.
Hancock tweeted: “Help is on its way. The [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)] has formally authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19.
“The NHS stands ready to start vaccinating early next week. The UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply.”
On the challenge posed by the need for the vaccine to be stored at an ultra-low temperature, Hancock told Sky News: “This is a challenging rollout and the NHS in all parts of the UK stands ready to make that happen.
“They are used to handling vaccines and medicines like this, with these sorts of conditions.
“It’s not easy but we’ve got those plans in place, so this morning I spoke to my counterparts in the devolved nations to make sure that we are all ready to roll out this vaccine … from early next week.”
In a statement, Stevens said: “This is an important next step in our response to the coronavirus pandemic and hospitals will shortly kick off the first phase of the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history.
“The NHS has a proven track record of delivering large-scale vaccinations from the winter flu jab to BCG and, once the final hurdles are cleared and the vaccine arrives in England’s hospitals, health service staff will begin offering people this ground-breaking jab in a programme that will expand to cover the whole country in the coming months.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent MHRA to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.
“This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will shortly also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.”