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The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for mass vaccination.

Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

The first doses are already on their way to the UK, with 800,000 due in the coming days, Pfizer said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS will contact people about jabs.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

But because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, as required, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there – for care home staff, NHS staff and patients – so none of the vaccine is wasted.

A further 648 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test were recorded in the UK on Wednesday, with another 16,170 cases reported.

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the jab – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Mr Hancock said, with the first load next week and then “several millions” throughout December.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the first people in Scotland will be immunised on Tuesday.

Welsh Health and Social Care Minister Vaughan Gething said the rollout of the Pfizer jab to care homes would be particularly difficult because of how it needs to be stored.

Mr Gething said that it was not possible to transport the Pfizer vaccine to more than 1,000 care homes across Wales.

The bulk of the rollout across the UK will be next year, Mr Hancock said, adding: “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better.” (BBC NEWS)

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