German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer announced on Wednesday that their vaccine had been approved by the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), allowing it to be rolled out for use in Britain.
The two-dose jab has started being delivered to Britain with inoculations expected to begin over the next few days.
Residents in care homes as well as their carers will be the first to receive the vaccine.
The vaccine offers 95 per cent protection from the virus four weeks after the first dose.
It draws on the virus’ genetic code to train the body's immune system to create antibodies against it.
The logo of US multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer, where Covid-19 vaccines are being produced for Britain. Photo: AFP
However, the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine comes with some tough restrictions. Unlike its counterparts by US company Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca, there are strict specifications involved when it comes to storage and shipping.
After being packed up at the Pfizer facility in Belgium, the vaccines will be placed into temperature-controlled boxes, which can carry 1,000 – 5,000 doses, and shipped to Britain in lorries or aeroplanes.
A tracker inside the boxes provides minute by minute information on the temperature, which must be kept at around minus 70 degrees Celsius to maintain optimal efficacy.
On arrival at a vaccination centre, each vial is mixed with saline solution before it can be administered, as part of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
According to BioNTech, which said up to 900 people had been working on the vaccine over the past year, more than 20 variants of virus mutations had been tested. The vaccine was successful at “neutralising” them, which means they are confident the vaccine will protect people against the current mutations and any new ones which may appear over the next 12 months.
Over the next three to six months, BioNTech will also monitor how well the vaccine prevents people from transmitting the virus to others.
While it is not known how long the vaccine will protect people against the virus, BioNTech said it will continue to observe its volunteers to see how their protection progresses over the next few months.