The UK is poised to approve the COVID-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca PLC and the University of Oxford, giving the kingdom another powerful tool to fight the pandemic as concern mounts over rising infections.
The UK’s drug regulator could clear the shot for use as early as this week, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot and UK health officials had previously said that they hoped for approval by the end of the year.
The go-ahead would come about three weeks after the UK began vaccinations using a shot from Pfizer and BioNTech that has been administered to more than 600,000 Britons.
COVID-19 cases have surged in the UK amid concern about a new strain of the coronavirus that officials have said is more contagious. That prompted the British government to reverse plans to ease restrictions over Christmas and tighten lockdowns.
Those measures could be eased at the end of February as the imminent approval of the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot permits the vaccination of as many as 15 million of the most vulnerable people, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The National Health Service would no longer be at risk of being overwhelmed by virus cases once that threshold is met, the newspaper said.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency would need time to carry out a review of the vaccine data, the British Department of Health and Social Care said by e-mail.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine could facilitate a rapid buildup of vaccinations because it is easier to transport and store than the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, requiring only refrigerator temperatures rather than deep freezing.
It is also less expensive to produce, so many developing nations — along with the US and the EU — have also signed deals for doses.
The vaccine could be rolled out across the UK from Monday next week, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
UK approval would be a vindication for the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot, which has been slowed by questions about discrepancies in the trial results. Overall, the studies showed that the vaccine was less effective than shots from Pfizer and another developer, Moderna.
However, a subset of the trial that showed better results resulted from a dosing mistake.
The UK has more riding on the domestically developed shot than some other nations because it will not be able to get any Moderna vaccine until well into next year.
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