LONDON—The U.K. became the first Western nation to grant emergency-use authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine, clearing a shot developed by Pfizer Inc. of the U.S. and BioNTech SE of Germany to be distributed in limited numbers within days.
The two-shot vaccine is also being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., where a similar authorization could come later this month and a rollout before the end of the year.
The U.K. green light on Wednesday punctuates a monthslong sprint by the two drugmakers, which teamed up earlier this year and then pulled ahead of two other Western pharmaceutical companies, each with its own promising shot. Vaccines typically take years to bring to market.
It also marks a key milestone in efforts to translate a promising new vaccine technology into a widely available shot. It was developed, tested and authorized and is now poised to be distributed amid a pandemic that has sickened tens of millions of people and killed more than 1.4 million around the world.
The U.K.’s emergence as the first Western country to get a vaccine is the result of fast work by the country’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Britain is transitioning out of the European Union, with the exit fully kicking in Jan. 1. As a member of the bloc, authorization of the U.K.’s new drugs were in the past overseen by the European Medicines Agency, the EU regulator, which was based in London until Brexit prompted it to move to Amsterdam.