UK becomes first country in the world to authorize Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

UK Health Minister Matt Hancock closing a debate ahead of the vote on government proposals for stricter Covid-19 levels in the House of Commons, London, December 1, 2020.

The United Kingdom becomes the first Western country to authorize the marketing and use of the anti-Covid vaccine from the American Pfizer and the German BioNTech. The national health agency, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has indeed confirmed, Wednesday, December 2 in the morning, to have given the green light. “This is great news, which will save lives, we now have hope that life will return to normal around Easter”, welcomed the British Minister of Health Matt Hancock on Wednesday at the microphone of the BBC. ” This is fantastic news ”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson added on Twitter.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two injections one month apart to be effective and involves a demanding – and expensive – supply chain (it must be stored at – 70 ° C). The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, manufactured in Belgium, but is not expected to receive more than 800,000 doses from next week. “Several million more will arrive in December”, Matt Hancock promised. The delivery of doses “Will depend on the speed to manufacture them” in Belgium, added the minister.

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The national vaccine campaign could start as early as next week, Hancock said. Boris Johnson’s government has already provided for three delivery methods: hospitals, giant vaccination centers and local health centers. Nightingale Hospital, located in ExCel (central London), and Ashton Gate Stadium, in Bristol (south-west of England), are being developed, thanks in particular to the assistance of the army. Residents and staff of retirement homes, healthcare staff and the elderly (over 85) will be vaccinated first. This list will be officially confirmed during the day. “The goal is to save as many lives as possible and start with the most vulnerable”, Hancock said.

Fear of reluctance on the part of the population

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is also under review by the MHRA and could also be approved in the coming days. “The timing for the issuance of the green light is completely in the hands of the regulator”, according to the Minister of Health, who insisted on his independence. “He has to take the time it takes to assess the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. “

As elsewhere in Europe, the British authorities are worried about a growing reluctance of the populations towards vaccines, especially with regard to a vaccine developed in barely ten months. According to a recent and very large study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), only 52% of Britons surveyed in November 2019 were in favor of vaccines.

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“Listen to the experts, trust the doctors, the nurses, Jonathan Van Tam [un des conseillers médicaux du gouvernement, particulièrement populaire] , insisted Matt Hancock on Wednesday. A rather paradoxical insistence on the part of a government of Brexiters, who deliberately ignored the words of experts when, one after the other, they warned about the negative effects of the divorce with the European Union (EU). The green light for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine nonetheless constitutes a political victory for Boris Johnson and partly helps to obscure his growing difficulties in controlling his own party.

Tuesday 1er December, around fifty Tory deputies voted against the government law governing the exit from confinement and the return to hard semi-confinements almost everywhere on English territory – the biggest rebellion to date against Downing Street since the general elections in December 2019.

A few days before a probable agreement with Brussels on the “future relationship” – post-Brexit – with the Europeans, the Prime Minister can also use this “first” British vaccine, as an argument in favor of Brexit. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) only confirmed on Tuesday 1er December the start of the accelerated review of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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