US cheers UK vaccine as virus soars

Another 2624 US coronavirus deaths were reported on Tuesday.
Another 2624 US coronavirus deaths were reported on Tuesday.

US health experts have welcomed Britain's emergency approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in a sign its own regulators may soon follow suit in a bid to bring the surging pandemic under control.

As US coronavirus hospitalisations jumped to their highest since the onset of the pandemic on Wednesday, Britain gave emergency use approval to the vaccine developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE.

It is the first country to do so.

Britain said it would start inoculating high-risk people early next week, a move that could make Americans more confident about the prospect of an expected mass vaccination campaign reminiscent of the anti-polio campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s.

"This should be very reassuring," US Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

"An independent regulatory authority in another country has found this vaccine to be safe and effective for use."

US COVID-19 hospitalisations hit a record for a fourth consecutive day on Tuesday, approaching 100,000.

At the same time, exhausted healthcare professionals are short-staffed, with many colleagues falling sick.

Another 2624 US deaths were reported on Tuesday, the fifth-highest daily total on record, raising the cumulative death toll above 270,000 since the pandemic began.

At least four states - Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota and Oklahoma - reported a record increase in deaths on Wednesday.

Although China and Russia also have moved ahead with inoculation campaigns with their own vaccines, Britain's medical standards more closely align with those of the United States.

"It's got major significance being that it's the first Western country to approve the vaccine for a roll-out and start administering it to the public," said Kirsten Hokeness, an immunology and virology expert at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

"It's going to put a little pressure on us to rapidly evaluate the data," Hokeness said.

A US Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers will meet on Deceber 10 to discuss whether to recommend emergency use authorisation of the Pfizer vaccine.

Moderna's vaccine, which employs similar technology as Pfizer's and was also nearly 95 per cent effective in preventing illness in a pivotal clinical trial, is expected to be reviewed a week later.

Of particular interest is how Britain manages the Pfizer vaccine's requirement to be stored at minus-70 degrees. Moderna's can be kept at more normal refrigerator temperatures.

While some US health officials described a timeline that assumed FDA authorisation would come within days of the December 10 meeting, others have said it could take weeks.

Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca Plc have already started manufacturing vaccines and say distribution could begin almost immediately after approval.

AstraZeneca, however, may have to conduct an additional trial to gain US approval after a dosing error led to better results in data than for its planned regimen.

Australian Associated Press