Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford is expected to be approved for use in the UK in coming days.
UK government officials confirmed that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency would imminently approve the vaccine, saying the announcement could come as soon as Tuesday, reports the CNBC.
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that the approval could come as early as Monday as health-care workers prepare to administer the shots.
But the regulator has been tight lipped on the move, and the UK's Department of Health told Reuters the agency should be given time to properly assess the data from the vaccine's trials.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove also gave nothing away in media interviews on Monday morning but said its approval could accelerate the lifting of strict lockdowns in the country, which have effectively canceled Christmas festivities for many millions.
Around 30,500 daily infections and 316 deaths were recorded in the UK on Sunday, but those figures could be understated due to reporting delays. Cases have surged in London and south England, raising pressure on hospitals. A new coronavirus variant found in the UK is reportedly more transmissible and has led to travel restrictions for people wanting to leave the country.
The AstraZeneca shot would likely be rolled out next week if approved in the next few days and would be added to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has so far been given to 600,000 in the UK, according to government statistics.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate would allow the country to significantly ramp up its inoculation program, given its development in the UK. It's also much cheaper than others and does not need to be kept at ultra-low temperatures.
Earlier this month, Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet medical journal, told CNBC the vaccine could be used around the globe more effectively than others.
"The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is the vaccine right now that is going to be able to immunize the planet more effectively, more rapidly than any other vaccine we have," Horton said, adding that it was important to think about vaccine immunization on a global scale "because even if we immunize one country, the threat then is you reintroduce the virus from another country that is not protected."
Confusion around its trial data in November led to some criticism of UK-based AstraZeneca. The data suggests that the vaccine can help reduce the spread of Covid-19, as well as prevent illness and death.
The study also found it had an effectiveness of 62% for trial participants given two full doses, but 90% for a subgroup given half a dose followed by a full dose.