The United Kingdom on Wednesday became the first country to approve a third vaccine against COVID-19 — an inoculation developed by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and researchers at the University of Oxford.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the development as “fantastic news” and “a triumph for British science.”
“The government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorize Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for use,” said a spokesperson for the British Department of Health and Social Care, according to ABC News. “This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards for safety, quality, and effectiveness.”
Researchers behind the new vaccine called the news a “landmark” moment.
The approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine comes at the end of the the same month in which the U.K. became the first country to authorize use of the Pfizer inoculation against COVID-19, which has since been OK’d for use in the United States.
Speaking to Sky News about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s approval in the U.K., British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country can now “get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection the first dose gives you.”
“The scientists and the regulators have looked at the data and found that you get what they call ‘very effective protection’ from the first dose,” he explained. “The second dose is still important, especially for the long-term protection, but it does mean that we will be able to vaccinate more people more quickly than we previously could.”
Initially, testing revealed the AstraZeneca vaccination had only a 62% effectiveness rating against COVID-19 infections after both doses were administered at least one month apart. The efficacy rate rose to 90%, though, when people were given half a dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose a month later.
“We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said last week, DailyMail reported. “We would have preferred a simpler set of results, but, overall, we thought these are positive.”
There were no hospitalizations or severe cases in anyone who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to a report from NBC News.
Distribution for the vaccine developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group will also be much easier than it is to transport the Pfizer inoculation, which has to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. The AstraZeneca vaccination can be stored for at least six months in refrigerators set anywhere from 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
Soriot described Wednesday as “an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine.” He went on to note the new inoculation — which joins vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna — “is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations have reported a 95% effectiveness rating against COVID-19 infections.