|The U.K. became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, with its regulator clearing Pfizer and BioNTech’s shot ahead of decisions in the U.S. and European Union.
The emergency authorization clears the way for the deployment of a vaccine that Pfizer and its German partner have said is 95% effective in preventing illness. The shot will be available in Britain from next week.
“This is going to be one of the biggest civilian projects in history,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a radio interview, with 50 hospitals preparing to administer the vaccine and 800,000 doses ready to be delivered from Belgium.
The U.K. had signaled it would move swiftly in approving a vaccine, and doctors across the country were put on standby for a possible rollout. For U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the rollout may offer some political respite after eight months of criticism over his pandemic strategy, as Britain’s death toll nears 60,000.
“We can see the way out, and we can see that by the spring we are going to be through this,” Hancock said on Sky News.
But first the government needs to deliver the shots efficiently across the country, and its patchy record on pandemic logistics is one reason often given for why the U.K. has the highest death toll in Europe. In a further complication, a Brexit trade deal has yet to be signed and the end of transitional arrangements risks disrupting supply chains at the turn of the year.
The U.K. still needs other vaccines to reach the finish line in order to immunize enough of its population to end the pandemic. The country has ordered enough doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech shot for 20 million people, less than one-third of the population.