Updated Dec 2, 2020 - Health

U.K. first nation to clear Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker holds an injection syringe of the phase 3 vaccine trial, developed against COVID-19 by the U.S. Pfizer and German BioNTech  in Ankara, Turkey on October 27
A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.K. government announced Wednesday it approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, which "will be made available across the U.K. from next week."

Why it matters: The U.K. has beaten the U.S. to become the first Western country to give emergency approval for a vaccine that's found to be 95% effective with no serious side effects against a virus that's killed nearly 1.5 million people globally.

  • Per Axios' Jonathan Swan, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn was summoned to the White House Tuesday to explain why he hadn't moved faster to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

What they're saying: Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted that the U.K. is "the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply."

  • Pfizer chair and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement, "As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world."

The big picture: The U.K. government has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, which is enough to inoculate some 20 million people. The nation has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in Europe, with over 59,000 people losing their lives to the virus.

  • The New York Times notes that the U.K. drug regulator's approval testifies to a strategy that's been "the most aggressive in the West," after breaking away from the EU's health regulations and bolstering an old law to fast-track a review on Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine.

Of note: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at temperatures well below freezing (about -94°F or -70°C).

  • But the companies say that once delivered it can be kept for up to five days in a fridge after thawing.

For the record: Russia and China have already cleared coronavirus vaccines, but they're not waiting for the results of large-scale clinical trials — prompting scientists to cast doubts on their safety and efficacy.

🎧 Go deeper: Axios Re:Cap interviews Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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