The United Kingdom has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for national distribution, becoming the first western country to authorize the vaccine for use by the general population.
U.K. health authorities have ordered 40 million doses, enough to inoculate 20 million people because the vaccine is administered in two shots. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC that around 800,000 doses will arrive in the country next week, and will be distributed through Britain’s state-funded health system, the National Health Service.
“Help is on its way with this vaccine, and we can now say that with certainty, rather than with all the caveats,” Hancock told reporters.
Depending on speed of vaccine production and other regulatory authorizations, the U.K. might receive between four to five million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2020, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal.
The vaccine will likely be distributed first among healthcare workers, nursing home residents and staff, with other vulnerable populations expected to be inoculated in the coming weeks and months. Other nations will potentially be studying the U.K. to learn from its distribution efforts.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is working to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for distribution, however authorization will likely come by December 10 at the earliest. Trump administration officials have privately criticized the FDA for not authorizing the vaccine faster than the U.K.
“It’s crazy to imagine the European Union or U.K. may approve a vaccine developed in the United States before us though, right?” a senior official involved in the approval process told Politico.
While Russia and China have both approved vaccines for coronavirus, neither nation has waited for human trials to demonstrate the vaccines’ efficacy.