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Britain Approves Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

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Britain on Wednesday approved use of Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine.

The shot has been described as the "vaccine for the world" because of its lower cost and easier storage requirements. It does not require extreme-cold storage that some other approved coronavirus vaccines need.

Anna Marriot is Health Policy Manager at the aid group Oxfam. She praised the approval of the vaccine, saying, "This wonderful news brings renewed hope at a time of rising infections and unprecedented pressure on health services in the U.K. and beyond."

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use.

Infections and hospitalizations in Britain are rising quickly. In addition, health officials earlier this month identified a new, possibly more easily spread version of the virus. The new form has now been found in several countries, including the United States. As a result, British officials have decided to give a first dose of vaccine to as many people as possible to offer some level of protection to the public.

As part of that effort, medical workers are to provide either of two approved vaccines: one from Oxford-AstraZeneca or one from Pfizer and BioNTech. Both vaccine treatments require two doses for full effectiveness. Officials say both vaccine treatments protect people even after just one of the two recommended doses.

Wei Shen Lim is chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in Britain. He told reporters Wednesday, "The immediate urgency is for rapid and high levels of vaccine uptake."

Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain have already received at least one dose of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said AstraZeneca vaccinations will start January 4. Officials say everyone who gets a first shot of either vaccine should get a second shot within 12 weeks of the first.

However, Pfizer said that any "alternative" dosing methods should be tracked by health officials. It noted that two doses are needed for the highest level of protection against infection. The company added it has no data to show that protection from one dose lasts longer than 21 days.

Early results from studies in almost 24,000 people in Britain, Brazil and South Africa suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe. The drugmaker says the vaccine is about 70 percent effective for preventing illness from coronavirus infection.

However, questions remain about how well the vaccine protects older people. Only 12 percent of study subjects were over 55. They also entered the study later, so there has not been enough time to observe whether they develop infections at a lower rate than those not given the vaccine.

A vaccine for the world

Beyond Britain, there are hopes the AstraZeneca shot will offer a path out of the pandemic. The extreme-cold needed to store other vaccines is "very impractical" in developing countries, said Dr. Gillies O'Bryan-Tear. He is chair of policy and communications for Britain's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine. He noted that the AstraZeneca vaccine "may reach more parts of the world than the Pfizer one."

The World Health Organization could soon approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in a worldwide effort to help poor countries. The effort, called COVAX, has secured at least 100 million doses of the vaccine. But none can be provided until approved by the WHO.

The United Nations health agency does not control vaccines. Instead, the WHO waits until a health regulator has approved them. After that step, WHO experts can recommend that vaccines be given early approval so donors can buy them for developing countries.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

Words in This Story

dose –n. the amount of a medicine or vaccination needed to protect against or treat disease

rapid –adj. happening at a fast rate

alternative –adj. offering another choice

track –v. to follow and observe the progress of something

illness –n. sickness; disease

impractical –adj. not easy to do or use

recommend –v. ​to suggest an act or action​

regulator –n. a group that is part of a government that can make and enforce rules related to public activity

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