The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Friday evening for general use, paving the way for the first inoculations in the U.S. to begin within several days.
The approval comes after the U.K. and Canada both authorized the same vaccine, while the former has already begun to inoculate medical workers and elderly citizens. Moderna’s vaccine is also expected to receive approval from the FDA in the coming weeks.
“The FDA’s authorization for emergency use of the first Covid-19 vaccine is a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.
While vaccine development and approval normally takes years, the leading coronavirus vaccines were developed and tested in record time. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use new technology that makes each inoculation more than 90 percent effective.
“This is one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in history,” President Trump said in a video posted to his Twitter account on Friday. “It will save millions of lives and soon end the pandemic once and for all.”
The vaccine will be free for all Americans, Trump added. Health-care workers and elderly Americans are expected to receive the first inoculations, followed by essential workers and then the general population.
Moncef Slaoui, head of the Trump administration’s vaccine-development program Operation Warp Speed, said in November that the U.S. would be able to inoculate 20 million people by the end of 2020.
“We plan to have enough vaccine doses available for use in the U.S. population to immunize about 20 million individuals in the month of December and another 25 to 30 million per month on an ongoing basis from thereon,” Slaoui said at the time.