The UK has licensed the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for immediate use, the first western country to give its approval to a vaccine. According to the makers, supplies will be rolled out immediately.

There is an important political dimension, as the UK is no longer bound by EU procedures, and the UK government is sure to claim that its swift approval is one tangible benefit of escaping the red tape of Brussels.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority was given power to make the decision ahead of it assuming the responsibility for the authorisations of medicines after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

The UK has purchased 40 million doses which are expected to start to arrive in the UK from Belgium within the next few days.

The first to be vaccinated will be care home residents and staff, while the next to recessive doses will be NHS staff and the over-80s. Although the vaccine must be kept initially at -70 degrees, it has a fridge shelf life of five days and can be moved to care homes.

Originally the UK government said it would give first priority to NHS workers, and the assumption is that a logistical plan has been devised to get it to care homes for first use.

On Wednesday morning, Ugur Sahin, CEO and founder of BioNTech, said: “The emergency use authorisation in the UK will mark the first time citizens outside of the trials will have the opportunity to be immunised against Covid-19.

“We believe that the rollout of the vaccination programme in the UK will reduce the number of people in the high-risk population being hospitalised. Our aim is to bring a safe and effective vaccine upon approval to the people who need it. The data submitted to regulatory agencies around the world are the result of a scientifically rigorous and highly ethical research and development programme.”

The EU, which has bought 200 million doses of the vaccine, is expected to give its approval by December 29.