UK approval of Covid vaccine is a giant hooray for science

World

UK approval of Covid vaccine is a giant hooray for science

The surge in optimism is fully warranted but must be accompanied by forbearance

Anjana Ahuja

What a moment for the world — and for science. On Wednesday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved by the UK medicines regulator, making it the first coronavirus vaccine to be approved for mass use in any country after large-scale clinical trials. The vaccine is also one of the most effective, protecting 95% of recipients from disease. There is light on the horizon amid the pandemic’s winter gloom.

The approval means the first doses can begin arriving from Belgium. First in line for the jab will be those working and living in care homes, health care workers and the elderly, who will be prioritised to receive the first supplies due to arrive this year. Altogether the UK will have 40 million doses by next year, enough for 20 million people.

It is a stunning achievement. The World Health Organisation was first notified on December 31 2019 of a pneumonia of unknown cause, later ascribed to a novel coronavirus. Scientists have raced from identifying a new disease to developing a vaccine within a year. The Pfizer/BioNTech product also uses a new technology, called messenger RNA, long touted as a game-changer. While conventional vaccines deliver a piece of viral protein into the body to prompt an immune response, mRNA vaccines send in just the genetic code, allowing the body’s own cells to churn out the viral protein. That has fed hopes that these types of vaccines will be easier and faster to produce. The technology, which also underpins Moderna’s vaccine, has lived up to the hype — exactly when needed...

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