The Vaccine Rollout Is About to Begin — In the U.K.

Everything that happened in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine this week

Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

There are now 13 vaccines in phase 3 clinical trials and seven approved for limited use. Still, none have been approved for full use, but that could change very soon.

U.K. approves Pfizer’s vaccine

The biggest vaccine news this week was that the U.K. granted emergency authorization for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, making it the first country in the West to approve a vaccine for mass inoculation during this pandemic. (Russia and China have done so, but their approval processes are significantly less stringent.) The first doses will be rolled out next week to doctors and nurses with the National Health Service as well as nursing home workers and adults aged 80 and over who had previously scheduled doctors’ appointments, reports the New York Times.

European regulators expressed skepticism about the “hasty” U.K. approval. British researchers, however, started looking at Pfizer’s data in October in a process called a “rolling review,” which gave them a headstart on their analyses. The approval of the vaccine in the U.K. puts pressure on the United States (and other Western countries) to follow suit. Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization in the United States, and Moderna did the same this week (more on that below). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to make a decision on the Pfizer vaccine after an advisory panel meets on December 10, and a second panel will meet to assess the Moderna vaccine on December 17.

Moderna applies for emergency use authorization

Following close on Pfizer’s heels, Moderna said on Monday that it applied for FDA emergency use authorization and released a trove of data showing that its vaccine is 94.1% effective. If it’s approved (and the aforementioned advisory panel gives its blessing), it can roll out in the United States as early as December 21. As Jesse Smith wrote in the Coronavirus Blog, the results reveal that “none of the vaccinated group participants contracted severe forms of Covid-19” — in other words, that it’s 100% effective against severe cases.

Facebook will get rid of Covid-19 vaccine misinformation

On Thursday, Facebook announced that it would “start removing false claims about these vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts on Facebook and Instagram” in its effort to keep people safe and informed about the coronavirus. Facebook has long been a hub for people to share vaccine misinformation, and the social media giant has been criticized for not effectively regulating this content despite its potential for public harm. It has attempted to regulate anti-vaccination content and other Covid-19 misinformation in the past by limiting its reach rather than removing it, but as OneZero has pointed out, this content continued to circulate in private groups and messages.

Moderna will start testing its vaccine in teens

On Wednesday, Moderna, the runner-up to Pfizer in the Covid-19 vaccine race, announced plans to begin testing its vaccine in kids aged 12–17. The study, which hasn’t started recruiting yet, will involve 3,000 teens: Half will get two doses of the vaccine, one month apart, and the other half will get a placebo. This is important because vaccines can’t be administered to kids unless companies provide safety and efficacy data on this age group. Pfizer is also running tests on this age group, and AstraZeneca has done the same, though not in the United States.



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Yasmin Tayag

Yasmin Tayag


Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.