U.K. becomes first to approve COVID-19 vaccine as other nations move closer to public distribution
As countries race to deliver COVID-19 relief, the United Kingdom on December 2, 2020, became the first to approve a vaccine developed by Pfizer. Mass inoculations were set to begin as quickly as the vaccine could be made, with the first doses planned to be distributed as soon as the second week of December.
“Help is on its way with this vaccine — and we can now say that with certainty, rather than with all the caveats,” Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, said, according to The New York Times newspaper.
Other nations have said they expect to also begin public distribution of a vaccine before the end of 2020. Health officials globally are working feverishly to review trial data from drugmakers to determine efficacy and grant approval.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told the nation’s governors on a conference call that the United States could begin distributing a vaccine as early as the week of December 14, according to CBS News. Drugmakers Moderna and Pfizer have applied for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency charged with evaluating the safety of the vaccines before approving their use.
Pfizer partner BioNTech and Moderna also applied for their coronavirus vaccines to be approved in the European Union, according to The Wall Street Journal newspaper. European Medicines Agency (EMA) officials intend to spend several weeks reviewing whether data from trials prove the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness. The EMA is expected to issue a judgment on the BioNTech vaccine before the end of 2020 and a determination on Moderna in early 2021, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“We will continue to work with regulatory agencies around the world to enable the rapid distribution, should the vaccine receive approval, contributing to the joint efforts to let the world heal and regain its normal pace of life,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said, calling the submission a milestone, the newspaper reported.
Militaries are expected to play varying roles in vaccine distribution. In the U.S., for example, military experts will offer logistics advice, according to multiple reports. In Canada, government officials announced that a senior commander and other officers from the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces will spearhead distribution efforts, according to Army-Technology.com.
Across the Indo-Pacific, drugmakers have announced major progress and provided general timelines for vaccine distributions.
The Serum Institute of India, which makes the AstraZeneca vaccine, intends to seek emergency use approval before the end of 2020 in hopes of a full rollout in India by February or March 2021, according to the Hindustan Times newspaper. Bangladesh has signed a deal with the Serum Institute to buy 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and expects to receive an additional 68 million doses from GAVI, a vaccine alliance headquartered in Switzerland, the newspaper reported.
Japan has deals to buy 120 million doses from Pfizer/BioNTech in early 2021, another 120 million doses from AstraZeneca and 250 million doses from Novavax, according to the Hindustan Times.
COVAX, an initiative led by GAVI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization (WHO), has reached deals to distribute vaccines in Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, with each country expected to receive supplemental vaccines from other sources, according to the Hindustan Times.
The WHO called developing a COVID-19 vaccine “the most pressing challenge of our time.”
“The global pandemic has already caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and disrupted the lives of billions more,” according to the WHO. “As well as reducing the tragic loss of life and helping to get the pandemic under control, introduction of a vaccine will prevent the loss of U.S. $375 billion to the global economy every month.”