The United Kingdom took the lead in the vaccine distribution race, announcing Wednesday the approval for Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. The UK is the first Western country to sign off on widespread vaccinations.
“The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use,” the government said Wednesday. The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said the first shots will be given next week. Studies show it is up to 95% effective.
Several other drug companies also are in the final stages of approval as the worldwide pandemic has claimed more than 1.4 million people across the globe and infected many millions more.
The U.S. on Wednesday saw its number of infections pass 14 million, with deaths continuing past 270,000. Emergency use approval in the U.S. is under review by the Food and Drug Administration.
In a Reuters story, the decision was criticized by the European Union for its short, 10-day approval window. The European Medicines Agency, which handles approvals for the European Union, said its procedure was preferable because of more stringent requirements than the procedure chosen by Britain. The British government plans to begin the vaccinations next week. The elderly, specifically those in nursing homes, and front-line medical workers will receive the first shots.
Dr. Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, called the approval historic. “This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the U.K.,” he said. “Every day matters in the collective race to end this devastating pandemic.”