Britain is on its way to becoming the first Western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, after the government reached out to the UK regulator on Friday, asking it to review the Astrazeneca-Oxford University (AZN.L) vaccine.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), confirmed it had received a letter from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Ordinarily, vaccines are authorised by the European Medicines Agency until the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, but MHRA has the power to temporarily authorise in case of urgent public need.
The UK placed orders for 100 million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine. This is enough to vaccinate most of the population, with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the MHRA. Interim data suggests the vaccine provides 70% protection, but researchers say the figure may be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose.
It also ordered 40 million doses of the two-shot product developed by US drugmaker Pfizer (PFE) and the German biotech firm BioNTech (BNTX), which preliminary data found to be 94% effective in preventing COVID-19 in over 65-year-olds.
Deliveries of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine could be as soon as 7 December, with regulatory approval anticipated within days.
The UK has also agreed to order five million doses of Moderna’s (MRNA) coronavirus vaccine, hours after the US-based biotech company reported that its vaccine candidate had shown almost 95% efficacy in its large Phase 3 trial in the US.
The Guardian reported that NHS hospitals have been told they could receive the first doses of the Pfizer shot as early as 7 December, if it receives approval.
Watch: Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective and has passed safety checks, new data shows
MHRA chief executive, Dr June Raine said: “We are pleased to have received the letter from the Department of Health and Social Care requesting review of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
“Our job will be to rigorously assess the latest data and evidence to be submitted of the vaccine’s safety, quality and effectiveness.
“We will seek advice from the Government’s independent advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines. The Commission will critically assess the data too before advising the UK government on the safety, quality and effectiveness of any potential vaccine.”
“The safety of the public will always come first. Our role is to work to the highest standards and safety is our watchword.”
On Saturday, the DHSC also announced it appointed Nadhim Zahawi as vaccine minister to oversee the rollout as the UK prepares to inoculate millions of people against the coronavirus, potentially within days.
Zahawi, a businessman and co-founder of the polling firm YouGov, said he was delighted to be appointed to the role on Twitter (TWTR).
He tweeted: “A big responsibility and a big operational challenge but absolutely committed to making sure we can roll out vaccines quickly — saving lives and livelihoods and helping us build back better.”
Delighted to have been asked by @BorisJohnson to become the minister for Covid vaccine deployment.A big responsibility&a big operational challenge but absolutely committed to making sure we can roll out vaccines quickly-saving lives and livelihoods and helping us #buildbackbetter
— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) November 28, 2020
Health secretary Matt Hancock, also congratulated the new appointment on Twitter, saying he was “delighted” Zahawi had been appointed.“We’ve an enormous task ahead with the NHS rolling out coronavirus vaccines across the UK,” Hancock added.
When a vaccine is approved, frontline health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first to be inoculated, followed by older people, starting with those over age 80, the government said.
Overall the government has ordered 355 million vaccines from seven different producers.
Watch: What does the Pfizer vaccine announcement mean for me?