The U.K. on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine created by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
The developers said they hoped it will become the “vaccine for the world” because of its low cost and ease of storage. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine uses normal refrigeration while the other vaccines currently in use require ultra-cold storage.
A separate trial on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is still underway in the U.S.
U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the development was “fantastic news” and confirmed that the rollout would begin Jan. 4.
He added he was “highly confident” enough people would be vaccinated by the spring “that we can now see the route out of this pandemic” but warned there is still “a difficult few weeks ahead.”
“We can see the pressures right now on the NHS and it is absolutely critical that people follow the rules and do everything they can to stop the spread, particularly of the new variant of this virus that transmits so much faster, he said.
“But we also know that there is a route out of this. The vaccine provides that route out. We have all just got to hold our nerve over the weeks to come.”
AstraZeneca said it aimed to supply millions of doses in the first quarter of next year as part of an agreement with the British government to supply up to 100 million.
The company’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said: “Today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Professor Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, told BBC Breakfast the vaccine not needing to be stored at the cold temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine would make “an enormous difference.”
He said: “It means that all of the centers that would normally get involved in vaccination, all the GP practices, as well as more simple community centers, for example, can get involved in the vaccine.
“It means we can take the vaccine to where it’s needed, rather than bringing people in to the limited places where we can deliver it.
“So it should make for a step change and it should also allow us to reach out to the most affected communities.”
“We have a vaccine for the world,” one study leader, Oxford’s Dr. Andrew Pollard has said.
Studies have shown the vaccine to have an average efficacy rate of 70% – though this rose to 90% when half a dose, followed by a full dose, was given to trial participants.
The Oxford shot is the second vaccine to be given the seal of approval by experts at the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who assess vaccines for safety, quality and effectiveness.
The MHRA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in the U.K. at the start of December.
The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is set to publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine.
But it has also advised the government to prioritize giving as many “at-risk” people their first dose, rather than giving out the required two doses in as short a time as possible.
The Department of Health said everyone will still receive their second dose within 12 weeks of their first.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
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