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Pfizer-BioNTech Covid Vaccine available in UK next week as British regulator grants approval

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The United Kingdom became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, with its regulator clearing Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s shot ahead of decisions in the U.S. and European Union.

The emergency authorization clears the way for the deployment of a vaccine that Pfizer and its German partner have said is 95 percent effective in preventing illness. The shot will be available in Britain from next week according to a government statement Wednesday.

“We can see the way out, and we can see that by the spring we are going to be through this,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sky News. In a radio interview, he added that 800,000 doses are ready to be delivered from Belgium.

“This is going to be one of the biggest civilian projects in history,” he said, with 50 hospitals preparing to administer he said, with 50 hospitals preparing to administer the vaccine.

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BioNTech American depositary receipts rose 8% in early trading in Germany. The U.K. had signaled it would move swiftly in approving a vaccine, and doctors across the country were put on standby for a possible rollout. For the government, it’s an opportunity to make up for missteps during the pandemic as Britain’s death toll nears 60,000.

The U.K. regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said on Wednesday that the vaccine “met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.” Pfizer, along with Moderna Inc. and the University of Oxford’s partner, AstraZeneca Plc, have sprinted ahead in a bid to deliver coronavirus vaccines in record time.

Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this week sought regulatory clearance for their vaccine in the European Union, putting the shot on track for potential approval there before the end of the year. In the U.S., a Food and Drug Administration panel is set to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss the vaccine.

China has given authorization to its three front-runners for emergency use. Russia cleared a vaccine known as Sputnik V in August, while a second inoculation was approved in October, even as the last stage of trials to establish safety and efficacy are still taking place.

The British government in late November invoked a special rule allowing its drug regulator to move ahead of the EU as the country prepares for the Brexit transition period to conclude at the end of this year.

The U.K. still needs other vaccines to reach the finish line in order to immunize enough of its population to end the pandemic.

The country has ordered enough doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech shot to innoculate 20 million people, less than one-third of the population.

While the companies have said they can produce 1.3 billion doses next year, much of that supply is already spoken for in deal to ship hundreds of millions of shots to Europe, the U.S., Japan and elsewhere.

The approval also marks the first time a vaccine based on messenger RNA has reached the market. The new technology essentially transforms the body’s cells into tiny vaccine-making machines, instructing cells to make copies of the coronavirus spike protein, which stimulates the production of protective antibodies.

The Pfizer-BioNTech shot dashed to the head of the queue after delays to the trials of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which has also shown promising signs in preliminary results of broad studies. The U.K. partners have faced questions after acknowledging that a lower dosage level that appeared more effective resulted from a manufacturing discrepancy.

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