UK asks regulator to assess Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine as U.S. discusses emergency use
Clinical trials have shown that a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is 95 percent effective at preventing the illness. /AFP

Clinical trials have shown that a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is 95 percent effective at preventing the illness. /AFP

The British government on Friday said it has asked its independent medicines regulator to study Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine with a view to an imminent rollout.

The announcement came after the pharma giant and its German partner filed emergency use authorization for the vaccine to the U.S. regulators Friday. 

On the same day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said their outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to authorize the COVID-19 vaccine.

"While we cannot predict how long the FDA's review will take, the FDA will review the request as expeditiously as possible," FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

If it gets approved, the vaccine is expected to be inoculated to the high-risk groups in the U.S. as early as mid-December, the company said. Last week, Pfizer announced that final results from their late-stage trials suggesting a 95 percent vaccine efficacy.

UK's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had formally asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for its suitability.

If approval was given, the vaccine would be free "at the point of delivery" across the UK from the country's state-run National Health Service.

The service would be ready to start a mass vaccination program next month if the MHRA gave its agreement on the jab, he told a news conference.

Both the U.S. and UK are hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Data shows that 196,000 cases were recorded in the United States on Friday alone. The country is on pace to reach 12 million cases since the pandemic began. 

The pace of new U.S. infections has quickened, with nearly one million more cases recorded in just the last six days before the latest record. This compares with the eight days it took to get from 10 million cases to 11 million, and the 10 days it took to get from nine million to 10 million.

Health officials have warned that the burgeoning wave of infections could soon overwhelm the healthcare system if people do not follow public health guidance, particularly around not traveling and mingling with other households for Thursday's traditional Thanksgiving celebration.

Britain, at the meanwhile, has suffered the worst death toll in Europe, with more than 54,000 deaths from 1.4 million cases. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered England into a month-long lockdown in early November after infection cases and deaths started to rise again.

(With input from agency)