Even as regulators in the EU opt to give the approval process for the adenovirus-vector vaccine just a little more time, the British have, as expected, approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for emergency use, becoming the first country to do so.
With 100MM doses of the AZ-Oxford on order, the UK expects to vaccinate its entire population (except for children, who appear to be the least vulnerable) with the doses it has ordered from AZ-Oxford, along with the doses from Pfizer-BioNTech (30MM). Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared on the BBC Wednesday to declare that "I can now say with confidence that we can vaccinate everyone" including the "over 50s" - who will come first - and "the under 50s".
Dr. June Raine, head of the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory products Agency - better known as the MHRA - said the vaccine would save tens of thousands of lives while promising "no corners have been cut" in assessing the shot's safety and effectiveness.
PM Boris Johnson declared the vaccine development "a triumph" for British science, adding "[w]e will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible." England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty, meanwhile, praised the "considerable collective effort that has brought us to this point."
Britain is moving to approve the jab even as questions linger about adverse reactions seen in a small number of trial participants. Safety questions prompted a month-long shutdown of the vaccine's Phase 3 trial in the US.
But it's understandable that the Brits are the first out the gate to approve it: Unlike Pfizer and Moderna's jabs, the AstraZeneca shot is UK-made. The government has promised to start injecting high-risk patients with the jabs as soon as Monday.
The UK has hedged its bets with orders of enough vaccine orders to vaccinate its population twice over.
Though Phase 3 trial data suggest it's less effective, the AZ jab is also cheaper and easier to store than the Pfizer vaccine (Note: data from AZ's Phase 3 trials suggested that effectiveness can climb to 90% when patients receive a half-dose to start instead of the full dose). Still, the government has said the vaccine will be administered in a two full-dose regimen, because - according to the data - the lower dose of the vaccine that gave a higher efficacy result doesn’t hold up under closer analysis.
However, even with the pace of vaccinations expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, Secretary Hancock is expected to announce another expansion of "Tier 4" lockdown restrictions, per the BBC.
Millions more people in England are to be placed under the toughest tier four coronavirus restrictions as case numbers continue to rise. Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out the details of which areas will change in a Commons statement later. Infection rates in lower-tier areas of England have risen rapidly in the last seven days, government data shows. Tier four rules include a "stay at home" order, and mean businesses such as hairdressers and gyms must close. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said: "It is clear as we have seen from the data in the last few days that the number of infections is going up. "That's unfortunately not just happening in the London and the South East, as it was in the last few weeks, but it's starting to happen elsewhere in the country." The new variant "has made suppressing the virus much harder", he said, adding the government didn't "take these tiering decisions lightly".
All this comes as BoJo deploys military troops to help prepare schools for the return of students after the winter holiday, even as daily infection numbers surge to new records, purportedly driven by the new, more infectious strain of the virus inspiring the expanded lockdowns in the UK. Regardless of where you live, the British government is asking all people to 'stay in' this New Year's.