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Covid vaccine: What does UK vaccine approval mean for US?

 With the UK granting approval to a Covid-19 vaccine that is currently being reviewed in the US, 330 million Americans are left wondering when they will be able to get the potentially life-saving jab.

There are two vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer, that are both seeking emergency approval in the US. Pfizer's treatment was approved for the British public on Wednesday.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to meet on 10 December to discuss approval for the UK-approved vaccine, which was created through a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech. They will meet again on 17 December to discuss Moderna's request.

It comes as coronavirus cases continue to balloon across the US, with an average of over 150,000 new cases reported per day. The US has recorded a total of 13.6 million cases and some 270,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Here's what you need to know about when the US will have a vaccine.

What impact does UK approval have on US?

On Wednesday, the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer vaccine, meaning that mass injections could start next week.

The elderly, as well as medical workers, will be given top priority, followed by those with medical issues, then by age.

The UK's approval is expected to place extra pressure on FDA regulators to swiftly approve the vaccine - American regulators will examine the same data.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar said on Wednesday that the UK's authorization is good news for Americans.

"While the FDA completes its review, the approval of another independent regulatory body should give Americans additional confidence in the quality of such a vaccine," he said.

In a separate briefing, the CDC's Covid-incident manager, Dr Henry Walke, added that they had seen the news, and "we are still evaluating that approval in the UK".

The British experience in distribution can also help guide US authorities.

This vaccine must be stored at around -70C (-94 F) and will be transported in special boxes of up to 5,000 doses, packed in dry ice.

Once delivered, it can be kept for up to five days in a fridge. And once out of the fridge it needs to be used within six hours.

Who will get the US vaccine first?

Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that the nation's 21 million healthcare workers should be prioritized first, as well the three million elderly Americans living in long-term care homes.

But there is less consensus on how states should distribute it to other groups.

The nation's approximately 87 million essential workers are expected to be next in line for the jab, but it will be up to states to decide which industries to prioritize. Will postal workers and meat-processing factory workers be included, for example?

Moncef Slaoui, who leads the federal government's Operation Warp Speed vaccine distribution program, said he does not "expect the states to make uniform decisions".

"Some may prefer long-term care facilities or the elderly, while others may prioritize their health care workers. It would be wrong to immunize 18-year-olds first. I hope no one does that. But otherwise, it's shades of grey."

Officials say vaccinations for groups that are not at high risk are expected to take place in the spring of 2021.

There are also ongoing concerns regarding how many Americans are willing to get vaccinated. A recent Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans say they would be willing to get the jab, up from a low of 50% in September.

  • How do we know the vaccine is safe?

It also remains to be seen how racial minorities - who are at a higher risk of catching the virus and dying from it - will be prioritized.

Last month, New York's governor decried the federal government's immunization plan as "discriminatory," saying that distribution infrastructure such as pharmacies and hospitals are less prevalent in black and Latino communities.

None of the vaccines currently under review have been tested on pregnant or nursing women, meaning they will be unlikely to be advised by the government to get vaccinated.

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