LONDON — Britain has authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.”
The United Kingdom government says the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has made an emergency authorization for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said “today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit."
This version of the vaccine costs as little as $3 a dose and does not require special handling or extremely cold temperatures for storage or transport.
British officials said clinical trials proved the vaccine is safe and effective, but they have not said how effective. The agency who approved its use did not immediately present its data.
Interim results shared by researchers earlier this month showed the vaccine was 62% effective for those given two full doses, and 90% effective for those given a half dose followed by a full dose. The scientists said they were still studying why the different dosages produced such different results.
The British government plans to begin administering the new AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday. Officials say they plan to vaccinate as many people as possible with the first dose, and then wait later, around three months, to give the second dose, according to the Washington Post. That's longer than the usual 21 days between shots.
“In the data, the scientists and the regulators have found the immunity comes from around two weeks after the first dose, and then the second dose should be taken up to 12 weeks later to give you that long-term protection,” British Health Minister Matt Hancock said.
Hancock said the goal is to inject as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, with the first dose to provide some initial protection to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Much of the country is in near-lockdown status as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Britain.