It's been described as a ‘game changer’.
A Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been approved for use in the UK, paving the way for mass rollout, with the first jabs expected to be given on Monday.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine – enough to vaccinate 50 million people.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.
“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 of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
Oxford University and the head of the Oxford Vaccine Project - Professor Sarah Gilbert - have welcomed the MHRA's decision to approve the vaccine.
Professor Gilbert, said: "This is a day for the team developing the vaccine to celebrate, after a year of extremely hard work under difficult circumstances.
“Now that the first authorisation or use of the vaccine outside of clinical trials has been granted, we still have more to do and will continue to provide more data to multiple regulatory authorities, until we are able to see the vaccine being used to save lives around the world.”
Professor Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor at the University of Oxford, described the approval of the vaccine for UK use as ‘a great day for British science and a great day for universities everywhere.’
Prof Richardson added: “Above all, it is a great day for the many people whose lives will be saved by this vaccine.
“We are greatly indebted to those who have designed, developed, manufactured and evaluated ChAdOx1.”
AstraZeneca chief executive officer Pascal Soriot said in a statement: “Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine.
“It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.
“We would like to thank our many colleagues at AstraZeneca, Oxford University, the UK Government and the tens of thousands of clinical trial participants.”
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Health Secretary have reacted to the news on Twitter this morning:
It is truly fantastic news - and a triumph for British science - that the @UniofOxford /@AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 30, 2020
We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. pic.twitter.com/cR4pRdZJlT
Brilliant to end 2020 with such a moment of hope: the @UniofOxford / @AstraZeneca #coronavirus vaccine has today been authorised for use by @mhragovuk— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) December 30, 2020
The #coronavirus vaccine is our way out of the pandemic - now we need to hold our nerve while we get through this together.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said the vaccine is a “great British success story” and “hundreds of thousands” of doses would be available for rollout next week, including to care homes.
He told Sky News: “I am now, with this approval this morning, highly confident that we can get enough vulnerable people vaccinated by the spring that we can now see the route out of this pandemic.”
He said there would be a difficult few weeks ahead but the “vaccine provides that route out” of the pandemic.
“We have all just got to hold our nerve over the weeks to come.”
Data published in The Lancet medical journal in early December showed the vaccine was 62% effective in preventing Covid-19 among a group of 4,440 people given two standard doses of the vaccine when compared with 4,455 people given a placebo drug.
Of 1,367 people given a half first dose of the vaccine followed by a full second dose, there was 90% protection against Covid-19 when compared with a control group of 1,374 people.
The overall Lancet data, which was peer-reviewed, set out full results from clinical trials of more than 20,000 people.
Among the people given the placebo drug, 10 were admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including two with severe Covid which resulted in one death.
But among those receiving the vaccine, there were no hospital admissions or severe cases.
The half dose followed by a full dose regime came about as a result of an accidental dosing error.
However, the MHRA was made aware of what happened and clinical trials for the vaccine were allowed to continue.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot suggested that further data submitted to the regulator showed the vaccine could match the 95% efficacy achieved by the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
“We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else,” he said.
On Monday, Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described the vaccine as a “game changer” but said it would take until summer to vaccinate enough people for herd immunity – when the virus struggles to circulate.
“To get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70% to 80% of the population to be vaccinated, and that, I’m afraid, is going to take us right into the summer, I expect,” he said.