Pfizer plans to ship 800,000 doses to Britain in the coming days from its production plant in Puurs in Belgium. Britain on Wednesday gave emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine, becoming the first Western country to pave the way for mass inoculations against a disease that has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.
The British government said it had accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for use and that it will be rolled out from next week.
Starting on Tuesday night, those doses were being prepared for shipment, BioNTech said. Boxes of several thousand doses each are packaged with dry ice to keep them at the South Pole-like temperatures they require, before they are put on trucks or planes and taken to Britain.
They will arrive in government distribution warehouses by the weekend, Pfizer said. British hospitals have already begun e-mailing members of staff to schedule vaccinations, with a London hospital system indicating that its first doses will be given at 7am next Monday.
Britain placed advance orders for 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but most of those are expected to be administered next year. Each patient needs two, a month apart.
A British government advisory body released its list of vaccine priority groups on Wednesday. At the top of the list are nursing home residents and workers, followed by people older than 80 and health and social care workers.
In practice, though, government officials said on Wednesday that because of the difficulties of storing and moving the Pfizer vaccine, they would initially restrict vaccinations to a network of 50 hospitals.
As a result, nurses, doctors, nursing home staff and people aged 80 or over who had scheduled appointments would be first in line for the vaccine, ahead of nursing home residents.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures until a few days before it is used. Vaccines by Moderna are stable at refrigerator temperatures for 30 days. AstraZeneca-University of Oxford's jab can be kept at refrigerator temperatures.