The UK on Wednesday became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, paving the way for mass vaccinations against the deadly novel coronavirus.

The British regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), says the jab, which claims to offer up to 95 per cent protection against COVID-19 illness, is safe for roll out.

The joint vaccine, produced by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, had recently claimed trials suggested it works well in people of all ages, races and ethnicities.

The UK government had asked the MHRA to look into the data to clear it for use if it meets “robust” standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness.

The UK is expected to receive a total of 40 million doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate up to a third of the population, with the majority of doses anticipated in the first half of next year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted “Help is on its way”, and told the BBC that people will be contacted by the NHS when it is their turn for the jab.

“I”m confident now with the news today that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better and we”re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy,” he said.

National Heakth Service (NHS) Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, said the health service was preparing for “the largest-scale vaccination campaign in our country”s history”.

Around 50 hospitals are on standby and vaccination centres in venues such as conference centres are being set up now.

The UK government stressed that the COVID-19 vaccine will only be authorised for supply by the UK’s independent regulator if it meets strict standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness, and if they are satisfied the vaccine can be consistently manufactured.

The MHRA is the UK’s independent regulator, hailed as a globally recognised institution for requiring the highest standards for quality, safety and effectiveness.

The vaccine will be manufactured in BioNTech’s German sites, as well as Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium.

The UK government said it remains confident that the cold supply chain needed to distribute the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will not cause any problems or delays. When the vaccine is stored in a fridge, it has an effective life of up to five days at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees, which will allow it to be easily stored at distribution centres.

It is the fastest ever vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same developmental steps that normally span a decade, the BBC reported.

Prof Danny Altman, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, said news of the approval was “momentous”.

“We have the first emergency approval for use of a really effective vaccine. Truly heroic.”

Globally more than 63,894,000 people have been affected by the deadly virus and over 1,480,000 deaths have been reported.

The UK has reported more than 1,647,000 confirmed cases and over 59,000 deaths.

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