It's a milestone development in the global fight against COVID-19. Early on Wednesday, the U.K. became the first Western country to approve a vaccine for use against the coronavirus: BNT162b2, developed by Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX). The government granted the vaccine an emergency use authorization at the recommendation of the U.K.'s national drug regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

In its announcement, the government said the vaccine will start to be made available to people next week. An independent advisory body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, will shortly make its final recommendation about which populations should receive the first jabs. 

The government added that it will provide further details in the very near future.

Child getting a jab from a medical professional.

Image source: Getty Images.

"It's the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again," Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in a tweet.

In a joint press release, Pfizer and BioNTech provided more detail, writing that BNT162b2's approval had at this stage been granted on a temporary basis for emergency use. The two companies have an agreement in place to supply the U.K. government with 40 million doses of the vaccine through the end of 2021. They "will take immediate action" to begin those deliveries, they wrote.

Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted requests for similar approvals to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union's European Medicines Agency (EMA), among other major healthcare regulators. The companies expect decisions to come from the FDA and the EMA at some point this month.

BNT162b2 did extremely well in clinical trials. In late-stage testing, the vaccine showed an observed efficacy of 95%, and "was generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns," as the companies wrote.