The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use and said that it will be rolled out from early next week.

Care home residents will be first in line for the vaccine, followed by those 80 years of age and over, as well as frontline health and social care workers.

The roll-out will continue for other age groups and those deemed clinically vulnerable or with underlying health conditions.

The jab, which needs to be stored between -70C and -80C, has been shown in studies to be 95% effective and works in all age groups according to the makers.

Based on the current information, it will require two doses per patient, with a 21 to 28-day gap between doses.

A British Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer/BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for use.

"This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness."

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was "fantastic" that the country's medicines regulator had formally authorised the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use, a move that he said would get the economy moving again.

"It's fantastic that the MHRA has formally authorised the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19," he said on Twitter.

"The vaccine will begin to be made available across the UK from next week.

"It's the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again."

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England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said it would take until spring to fully vaccinate the vulnerable population who wish to receive the jab.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is fantastic news. The MHRA, the fiercely independent regulator, has clinically authorised the vaccine for roll-out.

"The NHS stands ready to make that happen.

"So, from early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country."

The priority list for "phase one" of the Covid-19 vaccination programme:

  • Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  • All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
  • All those 75 years of age and over
  • All those 70 years of age and over and people deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable.
  • All those 65 years of age and over
  • All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  • All those 60 years of age and over
  • All those 55 years of age and over
  • All those 50 years of age and over

Mr Hancock told Sky News there would be "three modes of delivery" of the vaccine.

"The first is hospitals themselves, which of course we've got facilities like this," he said.

"50 hospitals across the country are already set up and waiting to receive the vaccine as soon as it's approved, so that can now happen.

"Also vaccination centres, which will be big centres where people can go to get vaccinated. They are being set up now.

"There will also be a community roll-out, including GPs and pharmacists.

"Now, of course, because of the -70C storage conditions of this vaccine, they will be able to support this roll-out where they have those facilities.

"But they'll also be there should the AstraZeneca vaccine be approved because that doesn't have these cold storage requirements and so is operationally easier to roll-out."

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and US biotech firm Moderna have reported preliminary findings of more than 90% effectiveness in trials of their vaccines, which are both based on new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.

The European Union has criticised the UK's rapid approval of the vaccine, saying its own procedure was more thorough.

The EMA said yesterday that it will decide by 29 December whether to authorise Pfizer's vaccine.

Northern Ireland Health Minister said Robin Swann said: "This is a hugely significant day.

"My department has the plans and preparations in place. There will still be difficult days ahead, and people must not let their guard down, but there are brighter days ahead."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the news a vaccine has been approved for use in the UK was the "best news in a long time".

Pfizer said Britain's emergency use authorisation marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19.

"This authorisation is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK," said CEO Albert Bourla.

"As we anticipate further authorisations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world."

'There is hope on the horizon'

The head of life sciences at the University of Nottingham said he feels "the most enormous relief" with news of the UK's approval of a Covid-19 vaccine and "there is hope on the horizon".

Professor James McInerney said the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine does not appear to decrease in efficacy in older populations, works well for everyone and the number of adverse reactions have been very low with many no more serious than a headache or reddening around the injection site.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Prof McInerney said he had signed up for the clinical trials but was not called, adding that he and his family will be first in line when it is released for the general population.

He said the vaccine is based on messenger RNA, which is thought to be a much safer way to produce a vaccine than older methods.

Prof McInerney said 43,000 people took part in the trial and of those, around 170 got Covid-19 in the end. Eight of these had received the vaccine, while around 162 had not.

He added that the vaccine has been seen to have had a huge protective effect against severe Covid-19, which is really important.

Prof McInerney said that those receiving the vaccine will get two jabs, administered around two weeks apart and full immunity will not be expected until around 28 days later.

He said the vaccine does need to be stored at very low temperatures so the roll out will not be without complications, but Pfizer has said it can survive in a fridge for up to five days.

Additional reporting Reuters