The UK's medicine regulatory authority approved a third COVID-19 vaccine for use in the country, made by the American biotech company Moderna which has already been rolled out in the US. It can now start being rolled out alongside the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines already being administered by the National Health Service (NHS) following approvals last year.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the approval of the Moderna vaccine follows a thorough and rigorous assessment by its teams of scientists, including advice from the independent Commission on Human Medicines, which reviewed in-depth all the data to ensure this vaccine meets the required standards of safety, quality and effectiveness .
Having a third COVID-19 vaccine approved for supply following a robust and thorough assessment of all the available data is an important goal to have achieved and I am proud that the agency has helped to make this a reality, said Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive.
I want to echo that our goal is always to put the protection of the public first. Once in use, all COVID-19 vaccines are continually monitored by the MHRA. This ensures that the benefits in protecting people against COVID-19 continue to far outweigh any potential side-effects, she said.
However, supplies of the new jab are not expected to be available until March because while the UK has pre-ordered 7 million doses, they are being manufactured in the US at first and will take a few months before manufacturing facilities in Europe will be ready to distribute.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock called it "another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease", and added it will "boost our vaccination programme even further once doses become available from the spring".
In trials with more than 30,000 volunteers, the Moderna vaccine showed that it offers nearly 95 per cent protection from severe COVID-19. The US Food and Drug Administration had based its decision of approval for America last month based on the results from this study.
As with all the COVID-19 vaccine data we have seen to date, we have ensured a robust and thorough safety assessment has been carried out with the independent experts that sit on this group, said Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Chair of the Expert Working Group of the Independent Commission on Human Medicines.
The Moderna vaccine works in a similar way to the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine that is already being offered by the NHS but is easier to store and move as it requires temperatures of around -20C for shipping similar to a normal freezer.
It works by injecting a small part of the COVID-19 virus' genetic code, which triggers an immune response and creates antibodies in the human body able to fight the virus. The dosage for this specific vaccine requires two doses to be given.
It is recommended to administer the second dose 28 days after the first. It is approved for use in people 18 years and over, and it can be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women following a discussion with their healthcare provider on the benefits and risks.
In comparison, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires temperatures closer to -75C, making transport logistics much more difficult. The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is easiest to store and distribute, as it can be kept at normal fridge temperature and has therefore been rolled out to general practice (GP) led services this week to be administered within care homes and other vulnerable sections within the community.
All three vaccines now cleared for use in the UK require a second booster shot.
According to the latest figures, around 1.5 million people in the UK have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far, the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs. The government has set a target to deliver first doses of a vaccine to 15 million of the most vulnerable by February 15.
The UK imposed mandatory COVID-19 tests for international travellers as part of new measures announced on Friday to contain the spread of new variants of coronavirus circulating internationally. The UK remains under a nationwide lockdown since Wednesday. The country is battling a second wave of infection.