The shot is expected to be rolled out next week and will be added to a Covid-19 immunization program started by Britain in December. So far, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been given to 600,000 people in the U.K., according to government statistics.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said the first doses of the vaccine were being released Wednesday “so that vaccinations may begin early in the New Year.”
It added that it “aims to supply millions of doses in the first quarter” as part of its deal with the U.K. government to supply up to 100 million doses in total. As a two-dose vaccine, the agreement means up to 50 million people in the U.K., which has a population of around 66 million, could be inoculated.
However, the U.K. government said in a statement Wednesday that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises it on immunization programs, had recommended that the “priority should be to give as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible.”
“Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first. The second dose completes the course and is important for longer term protection,” it added.
U.K. government minister Michael Gove had said Monday that the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could accelerate the lifting of strict lockdowns in the country, which effectively canceled Christmas festivities for millions.
Cases have surged in London and southern England with significant pressure being placed on hospitals. A new coronavirus variant found in the U.K. is reportedly more transmissible and has led to travel restrictions for people wanting to leave the country.