Dec 09 , 2020. 14 hours ago – 19:55 KYODO NEWS
LONDON – Britain on Tuesday started administering doses of the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE, becoming the first Western country to put such a vaccine into practical use.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the vaccination program was starting at up to 70 hospitals across the country the same day.
Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the world to receive the fully tested Pfizer COVID-19 jab after its clinical approval, according to the National Health Service of England.
“Less than a year after the first case of this new disease was diagnosed, the NHS has now delivered the first clinically approved COVID-19 vaccination — that is a remarkable achievement,” NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said.
The virus, which causes the respiratory disease and other symptoms, was first detected in Wuhan, central China, late last year and has already claimed more than 1.5 million lives globally.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed gratitude to “everyone who has been following the rules to protect others” in a tweet, saying, “We will beat this together.”
Last Wednesday, the British government approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is required to be preserved at an ultralow temperature of minus 70 C or lower.
The British government has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, which Pfizer claims is 95 percent effective, and 800,000 doses have already arrived, according to the local news agency PA Media.
Several million doses of the vaccine are expected to be supplied by the end of the year, Hancock told the BBC.
The government will first supply it to key hospitals to inoculate the elderly aged 80 or older and nursing care facility workers. Each recipient has to be administered two doses of the vaccine.
Hancock said the vaccination of people at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms is projected to be completed by next spring and expressed hope that the government can ease restrictions currently in place to prevent the spread of the virus after that.
The United States, which has the largest number of recognized COVID-19 patients in the world, is also expected to endorse the vaccine shortly and start inoculating its citizens as early as mid-December.
Health authorities of the European Union are also likely to determine by the end of the year whether the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be used in the regional bloc.
In addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech product, U.S. biotech firm Moderna Inc. and the University of Oxford have announced the development of COVID-19 vaccines and claimed that they are effective.
Japan has agreed with Pfizer in principle to receive vaccine doses for 60 million people, although the government has yet to receive its application.
In Japan, vaccinations are expected to begin around March at the earliest, as clinical trials and other mandatory evaluation processes need to be conducted domestically before any use of the vaccine.