U.K. Approves Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine, a First in the West
LONDON — Britain gave emergency approval on Wednesday to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, leaping ahead of the United States to become the first Western country to allow mass inoculations against a disease that has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.
The authorization to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer, a U.S. pharmaceutical giant, and BioNTech, a much smaller German firm, kicked off a vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine, encompassing not only ultracold dry ice and trays of glass vials but also a crusade against anti-vaccine misinformation.
The specter of Britain beating the United States to approval — on a vaccine co-developed by an American company, at that — may intensify pressure on U.S. regulators, who are already under fire from the White House for not moving faster to get doses to people. And it has stirred up a global debate about how to weigh the desperate need for a vaccine with the imperative of assuring people that it is safe.
Russia and China have already approved vaccines without waiting for the results of large-scale efficacy tests, a decision that scientists in some cases have said poses serious risks.
While the go-ahead bodes well for Britain, which broke from the European Union’s regulatory orbit to approve the shot early, it will have no effect on the distribution of the hundreds of millions of doses that other wealthy countries have procured in prepaid contracts.
It also offers little relief to poorer countries that could not afford to buy supplies in advance and may struggle to pay for both the vaccines and the exceptional demands of distributing them.