The Pfizer Covid vaccine could get the go-ahead in the UK even before the US authorises it, it has emerged, with hopes of a green light in as little as a week.
British regulators are about to start their formal appraisal of the jabs by US giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.
Government sources said that in “a best case scenario” a decision could be made in less than a week, with the NHS told to prepare to be ready to start administering jabs by December 1.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that in the US, the Food and Drug Administration’s key meeting will not take place until December 10, with hopes of roll-out soon after.
Dr Moncef Slaoui, head of the US vaccine programme, told CNN that the vaccine could be rolled out "maybe a day or two after approval, on the 11th or the 12th of December".
Ministers have stressed that the regulatory process in the UK is independent, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in charge of its timescales.
The watchdog has already been formally asked to assess the vaccines, and will receive the full set of safety and efficacy data on Monday or Tuesday.
The NHS has drawn up plans to start administering vaccines from December 1.
Draft plans suggest every adult in England could be vaccinated against Covid by April.
Under the timetable, roll-out for those aged 18 to 50 could even start in late January, after older people and care workers are vaccinated.
The provisional schedule – which depends on the authorisation and arrival of millions of vaccines – sees care home residents and staff, NHS workers, and the elderly starting to receive jabs before Christmas, and a far wider roll-out in the new year.
The dates pencilled in for starting to vaccinate each group
Health officials said it was too early to commit to the timetable in the plans which were leaked to the Health Service Journal.
On Friday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said he was growing “more and more confident” that life will be closer to normal in spring.
Health chiefs said the NHS is having to plan for many different scenarios, and that the draft vaccine schedule drawn up a week ago had since been amended, in light of updated information from manufacturers.
But deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has said the NHS intended to “move with as much pace as we can possibly muster” with only a matter of weeks’ difference between priority groups.
Up to 30,000 charity volunteers are being recruited to administer the Pfizer jabs which have been found to be 95 per cent effective.
Those living and working in care homes are likely to receive the first batches, followed by those in their 80s, and NHS workers.
Under the NHS plans, around 28 million doses will be delivered from “large scale mass vaccination centres”, of which there are expected to be around 40-50 across England in conference centres, stadiums and similar venues.
Because the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored in extremely cold temperatures, it is likely to be administered from these sites. And around 34 million doses will be administered from 1,000 mass vaccination sites run by GPs.
These are more likely to administer vaccines being developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca, which can be stored more easily. Both types of jab require two doses, 28 days apart.
Tale of the tape: Pfizer/BioNTech v AstraZeneca/Oxford
Pfizer has promised to deliver 10 million of the 40 million doses ordered by the UK by the end of this year, with hopes of results soon from trials of vaccines being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
The Government has ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has shown extremely promising results in Phase II trials, especially on the elderly. Phase III trials have yet to be completed, but are expected to report within weeks.