AstraZeneca said the vaccine it developed with the University of Oxford is to be administered to those above the age of 18 in two doses separated by between four and 12 weeks. Photo by Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE
Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to give emergency regulatory approval to the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, a move that is expected to rapidly increase the number of its citizens inoculated against the virus.
"It is truly fantastic news -- and a triumph for British science -- that the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter. "We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible."
The British government announced in a statement that it has approved the vaccine for use at the recommendation of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency following rigorous clinical trials and analysis of data.
Britain became the first country to begin vaccinating its citizens earlier this month, and had inoculated more than 600,000 residents by Christmas Eve but now with two vaccines approved the rate of inoculation is expected to increase.
The Department of Health and Social Care said starting Wednesday doctors have been advised to administer the first shot of the two-dose vaccine regime to all in the most high-risk group.
"With two vaccines now approved, we will be able to vaccinate a greater number of people who are at highest risk, protecting them from the disease and reducing mortality and hospitalization," the department said.
This approach, it said, is to take advantage of the two vaccines to ensure more at risk people are vaccinated in the coming weeks and months, "reducing deaths and starting to ease pressure" on the healthcare system, which has been stressed due to the pandemic.
Matt Hancock, the secretary of Health and Social Care, explained the AstraZeneca vaccine is comparatively inexpensive and easier to handle than the Pfizer drug, which needs to be stored at very cold temperatures.
The government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which are to be deployed in accordance to need, he said, urging to public to maintain practices, such as wearing a face mask and isolating, that stymie the virus' spread as the vaccine is administered.
"As we do this, we should all take comfort in the fact that help is on its way, and that science has delivered to give us all a brighter future," he said in a recorded statement.
AstraZeneca explained the vaccine is to be administered to those 18 years of age or older in two doses separated by between four and 12 weeks as this regime was shown to be safe and effective in its trials, resulting in no severe cases or hospitalizations 14 days after the second booster shot was given.
The company said it aims to supply "millions of doses in the first quarter" under its 100 million-dose agreement with the country.
"Though this is just the beginning, we will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere, as many as possible as soon as possible," said Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial.
The announcement came as the country experiences skyrocketing infections with a record 53,135 cases set on Tuesday, according to the government's data.
The country has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, suffering more than 2.34 million infections and more than 71,500 deaths.