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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.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Updated Jan 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
Updated 21 hours ago - Sports

2 tennis players test positive for coronavirus ahead of Australian Open

A tennis player (C) leaves hotel quarantine for a training session in Melbourne on Tuesday. The players to test positive for COVID-19 have not been publicly identified. Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Two tennis players are among seven people involved in the Australian Open to test positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne, health authorities in the state of Victoria said Tuesday.

Why it matters: Some tennis stars including men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic had sent a letter demanding Victorian authorities ease strict coronavirus quarantine rules for players ahead of the season-opening tennis major's start on Feb. 8.