U.K. First Country in the World to Approve Pfizer COVID Vaccine for Use: 'Help Is on Its Way'

Health authorities in the United Kingdom have given the green light to the coronavirus vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, with the country becoming the first in the world to approve the jab.

The U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) concluded on Wednesday that the vaccine had "met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness" after it analysed data from months of clinical trials.

The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care said the government had accepted the recommendation from the MHRA that the vaccine should be approved for use.

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted on Wednesday: "Help is on its way," and said "the U.K. is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply."

Hancock said the country's National Health Service (NHS) was ready to begin vaccinating people from early next week.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programs and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination."

High-risk groups including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable, will be first in line to receive the vaccine, the spokesperson said.

The U.K. has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine—which is 95 percent effective against COVID-19—enough to vaccinate 20 million people given that two shots are required. Ten million of these doses are expected to arrive before the end of the year.

Hancock told Sky News the vaccine would be rolled out from 50 hospitals, vaccination centers that are in the process of being set up and via physicians and pharmacists in communities across the country.

"This is fantastic news, the MHRA—the fiercely independent regulator—has clinically authorized the vaccine for roll-out," he said.

"I'm very proud that the U.K. is the first place in the world to have a clinically authorized vaccine," Hancock told BBC News.

Dr. Michael Head, a global health expert from the University of Southampton, welcomed the news while also noting that there would be challenges in the coming months as the vaccine is rolled out.

"This is excellent news and a huge landmark in the global efforts to address this pandemic. The regulators have clearly been satisfied with the data presented to them," Head said in a statement. "The Pfizer vaccine does require storage at around -70 degrees Celsius [-94 degrees Fahrenheit,] which will pose significant logistical challenges for all countries that choose to use it. These are not insurmountable but certainly challenging."

Head said: "Other vaccines, such as the Oxford/AstraZeneca candidate, require storage at much lesser temperatures and will be simpler to transport. Given we will certainly need more than one licensed vaccine to maximise global coverage, everyone will still be eagerly waiting for further developments from Oxford and Moderna. But, for now, this is wonderful news to wake up to."

This story has been updated with additional information.

Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
This illustration picture taken on November 23, 2020 shows a bottle reading "Vaccine COVID-19" and a syringe next to the Pfizer and BioNTech logo. JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images