Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca as it battles a major winter surge driven by a new, highly contagious variant of the virus.
“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,” the health ministry said.
The pandemic has already killed 1.7 million people around the world, sown chaos through the global economy and upended normal life for billions since it began in Wuhan, China, a year ago.
Britain and South Africa in particular are grappling with new variants of the coronavirus, which the government and scientists say are more contagious; many countries have responded by banning passenger flights and blocking trade.
AstraZeneca and other developers have said they are studying the impact of the new variant but expect that their shots will be effective against it.
Regulatory endorsement is a welcome boost for AstraZeneca and the Oxford team, which have been accused of a lack of clarity about the results from late-stage trials.
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