UK approves lower-cost vaccine as pandemic rages
Britain on Wednesday became the first nation to approve a lower-cost vaccine partially developed by Oxford University as the COVID-19 pandemic raged worldwide, with Germany logging its highest daily death toll.
International efforts helped develop vaccines in record time, and following Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the candidate developed by Oxford and drug firm AstraZeneca became the third to win approval in the Western world.
Britain, hard hit by a worrisome new strain of the virus and now divorced from the European Union, again gave its green light first.
"We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible," tweeted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the one from AstraZeneca and Oxford does not need to be stored at very low temperatures.
It can be kept, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions, making it easier and cheaper to administer, which is particularly important for less wealthy nations.
Hours later, Argentina became the second nation to approve the vaccine. Argentina and Mexico have agreements to distribute the vaccine in Latin America.
But the United States and European Union indicated that they would not soon follow suit.
Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the military-led US vaccine effort, told reporters that he expected approval "sometime in early April."
He did not fault Britain's health agency but said the United States was following its own trials and evaluations.
He also voiced hope that Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine — which, in contrast to initially approved jabs, requires just one dose — could be ready for approval in the United States in the first half of February.