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U.K. Authorizes Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine For Emergency Use


We have some big news out of the United Kingdom today and the global fight against COVID-19. The U.K. approved a coronavirus vaccine for widespread use. This is the one that Pfizer and BioNTech created. And this is a world first. Russia had previously approved a vaccine. But the U.K. is the first country we know of where regulators said yes to a vaccine that is backed by transparent science. The U.K. health secretary, Matt Hancock, speaking with Sky News, confirmed the vaccine will be rolled out immediately.


MATT HANCOCK: Yes. We will have it ready early next week. The - this is fantastic news.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering the story in London. Hi there, Frank.


INSKEEP: Sounds like regulators agree with what the company has been saying about its effectiveness.

LANGFITT: Yeah. They were just on the TV here earlier this morning saying that they do think it's 95% effective. This follows clinical trials in which more than 20,000 people actually got the vaccine. And they're saying there are only mild side effects, which last maybe a day or two. And what they're going to do, of course, is as they roll this out beginning next week, they're going to monitor people, see how they respond to it and make sure that they're responding well and that this is being done safely.

Now, the United Kingdom has 800,000 doses coming next week from Belgium, where it's being manufactured. This is going to be done in a couple of jabs, 21 days apart. And overall, just from this company alone, the U.K.'s ordered 40 million doses. That's 20 million - means 20 million people could get it here if it's all handled very smoothly. And in a country where we only have 66 million people here - much smaller than the United States - that's a lot and probably a pretty good start, better than most people expected around this time of the year.

INSKEEP: And an opportunity for those of us in the United States to watch and learn, I suppose, since, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. is only a few weeks behind this timeline. We might be looking at vaccines at the end of the year, at the end of this month, now that we're in December. So talk us through what's going to happen in the U.K. Who gets the vaccine first?

LANGFITT: Excuse me, Steve. They're going to start with the elderly, people in nursing homes, people who take care of those folks, as well as health care workers. And then sometime next year, you're going to see bulk vaccination for society at large.

INSKEEP: Is it going to be hard at all to get it distributed?

LANGFITT: Yeah. That's going to be a real challenge. There's a specific thing about this vaccine which is a logistical drawback. It has to be stored at minus 70 Celsius, which is about...

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

LANGFITT: ...Minus 95 Fahrenheit. So they're going to roll it out in hospitals where they feel they do have the infrastructure for this and also some vaccination centers. They'll be using some of the old field hospitals they built last spring when we hit our - had our first wave here. It's going to be a little harder in community clinics because they just probably are not going to have these, you know, super cold freezer facilities.

But this is really interesting, too, because, you know, the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine, which is also under review by the regulators here in the United Kingdom, that doesn't require such low temperatures. And the U.K.'s ordered 100 million doses of that. So you can see how the U.K. is going to try to basically, if they can, work with a number of vaccines - companies to get it out as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible.

INSKEEP: Again, this is helpful because the United States is facing the same dilemma.


INSKEEP: There's an opportunity to learn. Can you talk us through, Frank, the way that this vaccine might transform life in Britain? I understand you've had some pretty severe lockdowns there.

LANGFITT: We have. You know, we're just coming out of our second lockdown today. So the timing is very interesting that they're announcing this. But, I think, psychologically, it would be a big boost. I mean, people are really down here, as they are in the states. People have been locked up. The economy has really been hurt. We're deep, deep in debt here in terms of, you know, deficit spending by the U.K. government. And I think that this is going to give people more confidence and businesses more confidence to maybe begin to invest more in the next year and bring the economy and society back.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.