- The U.K. began its coronavirus vaccine rollout on Tuesday.
- Many people are asking where it comes from, where it will be given to people, and who will get it first.
- The U.K. has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, enough for 20 million people.
LONDON — As the U.K. rolls out its first coronavirus vaccine to the public, becoming the first country to inoculate people with a fully-tested jab, there are many practical questions about the historic program.
Ninety-year-old Margaret Keenan on Tuesday became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine outside of trial conditions. The new shot was approved by the U.K. drug regulator last week.
Here, CNBC answers some of the more popular questions being asked about the vaccine and its rollout:
Why was the UK first to approve the vaccine?
Last Wednesday, the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), became the first regulator in the world to grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use.
When question marks were raised about the speed of the MHRA’s authorization, it said it had been carrying out a “rolling review” of the vaccine data as it emerged over the course of clinical trials, and was thus able to make a quick, yet well-informed, decision.
“A dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data, starting in October 2020,” the U.K. government noted in a statement.
“A ‘rolling review’ can be used to complete the assessment of a promising medicine or vaccine during a public health emergency in the shortest time possible. This is done as the packages of data become available from ongoing studies on a staggered basis,” it added.
“The MHRA expert scientists and clinicians reviewed data from the laboratory pre-clinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing and quality controls, product sampling and testing of the final vaccine and also considered the conditions for its safe supply and distribution.”
Who made the vaccine?
The new shot in the U.K. is the result of a joint effort between U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.
The vaccine that is being supplied to Europe, and all of the U.K.’s 40 million doses (to be delivered in stages with the whole order completed by the end of 2021) come from Pfizer’s manufacturing hub in Puurs, Belgium.
How long does the Pfizer vaccine last?
This is the million-dollar question and one that, due to the unprecedented speed of development alongside other coronavirus vaccines, we do not know yet.
Pfizer said in early November, when the companies released their first interim analysis of their Phase 3 clinical trial, that “participants will continue to be monitored for long-term protection and safety for an additional two years after their second dose.”
As clinical trials have only taken place this year, it’s too early to know the duration of the protection it offers against Covid-19 infection. The coronavirus vaccine, like the flu vaccine, could even become an annual jab, or people could require boosters in future.
Which countries have approved the Pfizer vaccine?
So far only the U.K. has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could make a decision later this week (on Thursday) and the European Medicines Agency has said it will conclude a review into the vaccine by Dec. 29.
On Tuesday, the FDA said the data from Pfizer’s trials was consistent with recommendations put forth by the agency for an emergency use authorization.
It also said the vaccine was highly effective and did not raise any specific safety concerns.