In a potential lifeline for the struggling global aviation industry, the UK has become the first major Western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the previously announced Pfizer/BioNTech jab would begin being rolled out by “early next week”.
Last month, its manufacturer’s chief executive Dr Albert Bourla revealed the COVID-19 vaccine was “90 per cent effective” and would “help bring an end to this global health crisis”.
Help is on its way.
The MHRA has formally authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19.
The NHS stands ready to start vaccinating early next week.
The UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically approved vaccine for supply.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) December 2, 2020
A spokesman from the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said, “The government has today accepted the recommendation from the MHRA to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use.
“This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
“The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation will shortly also publish its latest advice for the priority groups to receive the vaccine, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable. The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.”
The rollout of the vaccine will be challenging as, unlike some of its competitors, it needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees.
The airline industry, and its ability to meet this challenge, will be crucial in the global rollout of this vaccine and many similar to it.
It’s reported that a network of 50 British hospitals are ready to deliver the first jabs with specialist vaccination centres also being built.
“The goal will be to vaccinate through the NHS right across the UK as rapidly as the company can manufacture,” said Secretary Hancock. “It will help save lives. Once we’ve protected the most vulnerable it will help us all get back to normal and back to some of the things that we love.”
“So many families have suffered, including my own. I’m just so, so pleased … 2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better. Help is on its way. Help is on its way with this vaccine – and we can now say that with certainty rather than with all the caveats that normally have to put around that.
“I’m confident now, with the news today, that from spring – from Easter onwards – things are going to be better. We’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy. Between now and then we’ve got to hold our resolve.”
Manufacturing of the Pfizer vaccine is already underway and the business said it could supply up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion in 2021.
The vaccine reportedly works by injecting people with the genetic material needed to grow the “spike protein” of SAR-CoV-2 inside their owns cells, which elicits an immune response.
Phase three trials – the final, mass testing vaccines must go through – began on 27 July and has so far enrolled more than 43,000 participants, most of whom took the required two doses. The trial contained a mix of people from a variety of racial and ethnically diverse backgrounds.
John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, which is creating a rival vaccine, said Pfizer’s effort had shown an “an amazing level of efficacy”.
“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr Bourla. “The first set of results from our phase three COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.
“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.
“With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis. We look forward to sharing additional efficacy and safety data generated from thousands of participants in the coming weeks.”
BioNTech was founded by two married German scientists, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. It originally set out to develop new types of immunotherapy for cancer but has recently concentrated on tackling COVID-19.
COVID-19 has been the biggest crisis the global aviation sector has ever seen.
Around the world, airline operations have ground to a halt, and hundreds of thousands of employees have been placed out of work, either temporarily or otherwise.
Near-whole fleets have been grounded and moved into prolonged storage, with airlines also accelerating retirement plans on older aircraft.
A number of airlines have been forced to file for bankruptcy protections against creditors as they restructure their businesses, a last-stitch attempt at surviving to see the other side of the pandemic.
As such, the news of an effective vaccine could not come fast enough.
According to the International Air Transport Association, the world’s airlines are on track to lose a total of $157 billion throughout 2020 and 2021 as global COVID cases continue to surge.
The IATA recently downgraded its industry outlook since June, when it had forecast $100 billion in losses across the two-year period.
Now, the association is projecting a $118.5 billion deficit across the industry in 2020 alone, with a further $38.7 billion loss predicted for 2021.
Current IATA estimates suggest that passenger numbers will drop to 1.8 billion this year from 4.5 billion in 2019, and will recover only partially to 2.8 billion next year. Passenger revenue for 2020 is expected to fall 69 per cent to $191 billion.
“That’s by far the biggest shock the industry has experienced in the post-World War Two years,” IATA chief economist Brian Pearce said.
According to Pearce, the average airline now has enough liquidity to survive another 8.5 months, though some only have enough to last mere weeks
“I think we will get consolidation through some airline failures,” he said.
Additional reporting by Adam Thorn