U.K. becomes first country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

LONDON — The U.K. has become the first country to approve the use of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, and will begin inoculations next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said early Wednesday.

“For so long we’ve been saying that if a vaccine is developed, then things will get better in 2021, and now we can say when this vaccine is rolled out things will get better,” Hancock told the BBC.

The U.K. has ordered 40 million vaccine doses from Pfizer — enough for up to a third of the population.

The vaccine was found to be 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, the drugmaker said after clinical trials.

The pharmaceutical giant submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 20 for an emergency use authorization in the U.S.

A vaccine committee will now decide which groups will first get the vaccine, such as care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and people who are clinically vulnerable.

“This authorization is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in a news release.

The Pfizer shots must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit — far colder than standard cooling systems. To help accommodate the extra refrigeration requirement, Pfizer has developed a supercool storage unit packed with dry ice.

Nearly 1.5 million people around the world have died from the virus, with more than 271,000 deaths in the U.S. and nearly 60,000 deaths in the U.K.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.