On Wednesday, the United Kingdom became the first Western nation to approve a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for covid-19. Russia and China have previously approved vaccines engineered within their own countries, though robust and transparent efficacy data on these products has not been widely available.
The Pfizer/BioNTech product approved in the UK is expected to be available for use as early as next week and will be delivered in a two-injection regimen, spaced three weeks apart. The first persons to receive vaccines will be those who live or work in nursing care facilities followed by healthcare and social services workers and individuals over 80 years old. In total, nine groups have been prioritized to receive the vaccine by the UK's joint committee on vaccination and immunization. Health Secretary Matt Hancock noted that the country expected to receive 800,000 doses in the immediate future and had been able to secure a total of 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Several other regulatory bodies, including those in the United States, Canada and the European Union, are currently reviewing the vaccine and its current competitors, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford University.
The announcement of vaccine approval in the UK raised eyebrows in the Trump administration as to why the United States' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said they will not be able to approve a vaccine for at least another week. FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said that his teams have been working "around the clock" to speed a vaccine to the American people as soon as possible, but also noted that they must "make sure that any vaccine meets the FDA's high standard of safety and efficacy."
Significant concerns have been raised throughout vaccine development that the speed of the process, and resulting product safety questions, will keep Americans from volunteering to receive the injections. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that the speed of the process did not reflect any corner cutting.
On Tuesday, the United States' Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met and recommended that the first group to receive any available vaccinations in this country should be healthcare workers and those who live in nursing homes. These groups account for roughly 24 million out of 330 million people living in the United States. Forty million doses of vaccine are expected to be available by the end of this calendar year. Some experts believe that over 200 million doses will be available to Americans by this coming summer.