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UK approves AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON: The United Kingdom on Wednesday approved the coronavirus vaccine developed by drug firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University for use and the mass rollout will start on January 4.

The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions, and is, therefore, cheaper and easier to administer than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna jabs that require freezing at extreme temperatures.

Britain will become the first nation to roll out the jab on January 4, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, amid mounting concerns that another dangerous spike in infections threatens to overwhelm the NHS.

“Brilliant to end 2020 with such a moment of hope,” tweeted Hancock. “The #coronavirus vaccine is our way out of the pandemic–now we need to hold our nerve while we get through this together.”

The government said in a statement earlier that it had “today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.

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“This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” said the Department of Health and Social Care spokesman.

On Sunday, AstraZeneca’s Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said the vaccine provides “100 percent protection” against severe Covid disease requiring hospitalisation. He predicted trials would show his firm had achieved a vaccine efficacy equal to Pfizer-BioNTech at 95% and Moderna at 94.5%.

Earlier trials had shown varying outcomes in the AstraZeneca shot’s efficacy. The vaccine initially showed an average 70% effectiveness but that level jumped to 90% depending on the dosage regime.

Behind this average figure from large-scale trials in the UK and Brazil was 62% effectiveness for those who were vaccinated with two full doses of the shot. However, the vaccine was found to have 90% efficacy for volunteers who received a half-dose first and then a full dose one month later.