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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.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • 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

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

Ex-CDC director Tom Frieden on the next COVID-19 vaccines

Americans fortunate enough to receive COVID vaccines now, outside of clinical trials, are getting shots made by either Pfizer or Moderna. But newly released data from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson suggests that more vaccines could be on the way, with J&J's requiring a single dose.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the news and why it matters with Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, as COVID-19 variants spread globally.