"a day for the team developing the vaccine to celebrate"
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, marking a positive moment amid rising Covid-19 cases.
The first doses are set to be given on January 4, 2021, and the UK has pre-ordered 100 million doses, enough to vaccinate 50 million people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that it will cover the entire population when combined with the full order of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
On BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said it marked a “significant moment” in the fight against the virus, adding that “2021 can be a year of hope and recovery because we can see our way out of the pandemic”.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, who designed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, said:
“Now that the first authorisation of use of the vaccine outside of clinical trials has been granted we still have more to do, and will continue to provide more data to multiple regulatory authorities, until we are able to see the vaccine being used to save lives around the world.
“This is a day for the team developing the vaccine to celebrate, after a year of extremely hard work under difficult circumstances.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the vaccine development “a triumph” for British science.
The vaccine was designed during the first months of 2020 and was tested on the first volunteer in April. Since then, it has been through large-scale clinical trials involving thousands of people.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in a standard fridge whereas the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs ultra-cold storage at -70°C.
This makes the new jab easier to distribute at speed.
Medical authorities have also allowed the second dose to be given up to 12 weeks after the first. It is a break from the dosing schedule in the clinical trials, but it allows more people to be given at least some protection more quickly.
So far, studies have shown that two full doses provide 62% protection.
While it is below the 95% of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, it is indicated that protection from the new vaccine increased to 90% if the strength of the first dose was halved.
AstraZeneca is continuing to gather evidence on the dose schedule and will provide that to the medical regulator.
Chief executive Pascal Soriot said that the company will “progressively ramp up” the vaccination programme, and will be able to deliver up to two million doses a week.
More than 600,000 people in the UK have been vaccinated so far.
The approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca comes as more people in England are expected to be placed under the toughest Tier 4 regulations as a result of surging Covid-19 cases.