LONDON — The U.K.’s medicines regulator approved Moderna‘s coronavirus vaccine on Friday for emergency use in the country.
It comes as the U.K. battles a more contagious strain of the virus, which has prompted an alarming surge of infections and deaths nationwide and resulted in a third lockdown.
In a release, the country’s Department of Health said the Moderna vaccine meets the “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality” of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
It added that the U.K. had ordered an extra 10 million doses of the vaccine, taking its total to 17 million. They are expected to be available from the spring.
The MHRA authorized the Moderna vaccine after months of rigorous clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people, the release said. It added that it is 94% effective in preventing Covid, including in the elderly.
“This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease,” Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement.
On Dec. 8, the U.K. became one of the first countries in the world to begin vaccinating its population against the coronavirus. The country approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 2 and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s shot on Dec. 30.
It has now vaccinated around 1.5 million people and Hancock said Friday’s approval will allow the country to accelerate its vaccination program from the spring.
The vaccines are being given first to priority groups, including those in care homes, people over 80 and frontline health and social care workers.
In total, the U.K. has secured 367 million doses of seven different vaccine candidates, including 40 million of Pfizer-BioNTech’s and 100 million of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s.
Britain has reported almost 2.9 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and over 78,600 related deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
On Thursday, it reported its second-highest number of daily Covid deaths at 1,162. It marked the 11th time to date that the U.K. has recorded daily deaths over 1,000.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on Friday declared a “major incident” in London, as hospitals look close to being overwhelmed. Over 800 patients are being admitted to hospitals in the capital each day, officials warned at a press briefing.