Updated Dec 30, 2020 - World

U.K. first nation to approve Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson  with a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on November 30, 2020 in Wrexham, Wales.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in November in Wrexham, Wales. Photo: Paul Ellis/WPA Pool/Getty Images

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved for use in the United Kingdom on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The U.K. is the first country to authorize this coronavirus vaccine that's cheaper and easier to store than others. It's less than three weeks since British regulators became the first in the West to give emergency approval for a COVID-19 vaccine — Pfizer-BioNTech's.

  • It paves the way for a huge immunization drive as COVID-19 cases spike across the U.K., with millions more people in England expected to be placed under the nation's toughest tier 4 restrictions.
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC, "We've got enough of this vaccine on order to vaccinate the whole population — 100 million doses. Add that to the 30 million doses of Pfizer and that's enough for two doses for the entire population."

The big picture: Peer-reviewed research published earlier this month confirmed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was about 62% effective in preventing symptomatic infections after two standard doses.

  • That's not as high as the roughly 95% efficacy reported by the Pfizer and Moderna, but its advantages include easier distribution, and no one who received an Oxford-AstraZeneca dose has developed a severe infection or been hospitalized.
  • While the coronavirus vaccine has generally been administered in two doses, the British government said it plans to "prioritize giving as many people as possible a single dose," AP notes.

What to watch: AstraZeneca said in a statement the first inoculations from this vaccine were due to begin in the new year and that the company aims to supply "millions of doses" by the end of March.

  • Oxford and AstraZeneca have pledged to distribute their vaccine at a lower cost of about $3-4 per dose and committed to providing over 1 billion doses to developing nations.

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

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