LONDON—The U.K. authorized a Covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca PLC, opening the door for the rollout of millions of doses in a country where infections have surged amid a more infectious variant of the virus.
U.K. health officials also recommended a delay of up to three months between both doses of the vaccine, guidance that also applies to the shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE that was authorized in the U.K. earlier this month. The delay will allow inoculations to reach more people more quickly as the new variant pushes new cases to records and hospitalizations soar.
The green light represents the third emergency-use approval of a Western-developed vaccine this month and comes as cases are rising sharply in Europe and the U.S., which has now reported its first case of the new variant. The Pfizer-BioNTech shot and one developed by Moderna Inc. have been cleared in the U.S.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine stands out on price, convenience and global ambition. AstraZeneca has promised to make as many as three billion doses available in 2021—more than any other Covid-19 vaccine maker—and at a cheaper price. The U.K. company says it won’t profit from the shot during the pandemic, or ever in the case of poorer countries. The vaccine also can be transported and stored for months with normal refrigeration, making it easier to distribute where people and health-care networks are sparse or underfunded. The two other Western vaccines in use require ultracold temperatures for all but a few days or weeks.
AstraZeneca’s shot—less effective in clinical trials than its rivals’ injections—won’t be available in the U.S. until the Food and Drug Administration reviews large-scale trials still being conducted there and decides whether to authorize its use.
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