The U.K. has cleared its second COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use with the green light granted to AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

The country's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) cleared the adenovirus shot for emergency use in people 18 years and older, just weeks after the U.K. became the first country to grant an emergency use licence for a vaccine developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Incorporated (NYSE:PFE). For additional information, see December 14, 2020, article - U.K. First to Green Light a COVID-19 Vaccine.

The clearance of a second vaccine comes as the U.K. is undergoing a massive surge in COVID-19 numbers, recording an average of more than 50,000 new cases every day for the past week. The virus has claimed almost 75,000 lives in the U.K. since last March.

Around half a million doses of the new vaccine are being administered now with a promise of "millions of doses in the first quarter" as part of an agreement with the government to supply up to 100 million doses in total. The vaccine will be delivered as two doses administered with an interval of between four and 12 weeks. In clinical trials it was shown to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, with no severe cases and no hospitalisations more than 14 days after the second dose.

U.K. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: "I am delighted that today we are rolling out the Oxford vaccine -- a testament to British science. This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight. Through its vaccine delivery plan, the NHS is doing everything it can to vaccinate those most at risk as quickly as possible and we will rapidly accelerate our vaccination programme. While the most vulnerable are immunised, I urge everybody to continue following the restrictions so we can keep cases down and protect our loved ones."

"Today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine," commented Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca chief executive officer. "It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit. We would like to thank our many colleagues at AstraZeneca, Oxford University, the U.K. government and the tens of thousands of clinical trial participants."

AstraZeneca said it is working with a number of manufacturing partners to ramp up production with the goal of achieving a capacity of up to 3 billion doses of the vaccine globally in 2021. In late December, the European Union--which the U.K. has now formally left--announced that COVID-19 vaccinations were to start across all 27 member states from December 27. Europe has so far approved one COVID-19 vaccine for use from Pfizer/BioNTech. For additional information, see December 28, 2020, article--All European Union Countries to Start Mass COVID-19 Vaccinations on Same Day.

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