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Did Brexit help the UK fast-track a coronavirus vaccine approval?

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In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford a researcher works on the coronavirus vaccine  developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford a researcher works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.   -   Copyright  John Cairns/AP
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The UK's approval in record time of a COVID-19 vaccine was hailed as a historic moment that lifted spirits in London but raised some eyebrows.

In giving the go-ahead for emergency use of the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, Britain has vaulted past the United States by at least a week and provoked accusations of putting speed before public confidence.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country had been "waiting and hoping for the day when the searchlights of science would pick out our invisible enemy and give us the power to stop that enemy from making us ill. And now the scientists have done it."

The UK's health secretary Matt Hancock said the biggest programme of mass vaccination in the history of the UK would begin next week starting with the most vulnerable.

He credited the speed of the regulator's approval to Britain's recent departure from the European Union:

"We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they're done because of Brexit".

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg had the same message, tweeting: "We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU. Last month we changed the regulations so a vaccine did not need EU approval which is slower."

German Health Minister Jens Spahn, however, pointed out that the German company that developed the vaccine did so with funding from the EU.

"For our British friends since I have read some comments on Brexit, BioNTech is a European development funded by the European Union," Spahn said.

"It shows that if a product from the European Union is so good that it's authorised so quickly in the UK, that in this crisis, what is best, is European and international cooperation."

German ambassador to the UK Andreas Michaelis tweeted: "Why is it so difficult to recognise this important step forward as a great international effort and success. I really don't think this is a national story. In spite of the German company BioNTech having made a crucial contribution this is European and transatlantic."

Experts have said that a vaccine is the best tool to end the coronavirus pandemic by developing population immunity.

The head of the UK's medicines regulator has stressed that no corners were cut in assessing its safety and the government expects a high take-up of the jab.