Britain first to approve AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine

It has ordered 100 million doses as health minister eyes route out of pandemic by spring

LONDON: Britain yesterday became the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, hoping that rapid action would help it stem a surge of infections driven by a highly contagious variant of the virus.

Britain on Tuesday registered a new daily high of 53,135 cases in the preceding 24 hours.

The government, which has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, said it had accepted a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to grant emergency authorisation.

The approval is vindication for a shot seen as essential for mass immunisations in the developing world as well as in Britain, but does not eliminate questions about trial data that make it unlikely to be approved so rapidly in the European Union or the United States.

"The NHS (National Health Service) will be able to deliver these shots into people's arms at the speed at which it can be manufactured," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.

"I am now... highly confident that we can get enough vulnerable people vaccinated by the spring that we can now see our route out of this pandemic."

Mr Hancock said hundreds of thousands of doses will be available next week in Britain, which is already rolling out a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The Oxford vaccine has been found in trials to be less effective than the Pfizer/BioNTech shot but, crucially for countries with more basic health infrastructure, can be stored and transported under normal refrigeration, rather than super-cooled to -70 deg C.

Meanwhile, a study has shown the new variant of the coronavirus does not appear to cause more severe illness, though scientists say it can spread more rapidly.

The new variant was found in England earlier this month.

According to a study by Public Health England, researchers compared 1,769 people infected with the new variant with 1,769 who had what they described as "wild-type" virus. The two groups were matched 1:1 on the basis of age, sex, area of residence and time of testing.

"Preliminary results... found no statistically significant difference in hospitalisation and 28-day case fatality between cases with the variant and wild-type comparator cases," the study said. - REUTERS