The UK is set to become the first western country to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine after it was authorized for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA).
Initial doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has been shown to be 95% effective in trials, will arrive in the UK in the coming days. The country has bought 40m total doses, which will arrive in stages throughout 2020 and 2021, with 800,000 set to be available next week.
At first, people in the most vulnerable category will be prioritized for vaccinations, including older people and those in care homes, plus staff such as NHS workers.
Logistical challenges remain, including the fact the vaccine has to be kept at -70C. At present 50 hospitals are ready to receive the jabs and specialist centres are being built, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Hancock credited the Brexit process for allowing the country to approve the vaccine ahead of the U.S. and Europe, with special power granted to the MHRA prior to the UK’s official departure from the EU on January 1.
The news offers hope for a return to a semblance of pre-Covid normality in the first half of 2021. Upcoming events, such as the Berlinale (February 20 – March 1) remain precarious, with the vaccine’s impact in those early months unclear at this stage. Today, Berlinale Executive Director Mariette Rissenbeek said the festival was “currently testing the feasibility of the festival in February” amid ongoing lockdown measures in the country.
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