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England becomes first country to approve AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

The approval arrives as England confronts a new strain of the illness.

Updated: December 30, 2020 - 12:35pm

Early Wednesday, Britain became the first country in the world to issue an emergency use  approval for the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. 

England has ordered 100 million doses of the two-dose vaccine. 

"The government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorize Oxford University/AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine for use," said the U.K. Ministry of Health. 

England is currently confronting a new strain of the highly contagious virus. Researchers are assessing the differences attributable to the new strain, as are vaccine producers, though AstraZeneca expects their shots will remain effective against the new strain. 

Results from AstraZeneca's late-stage trials yielded mixed results. Pooled results from the company's trials show the vaccine having an overall efficacy rate of 70.4% and 62% among trial participants given both full doses of the vaccine. However, the efficacy rate rose dramatically to 90% when a smaller group of participants were first given half a dose of the vaccine, followed by a full dose. 

It is unclear which dose regime has been approved. 

"Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine," said AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot.

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