U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States has authorised a second COVID-19 vaccine, jumping the gun on regulators who are yet to give it the formal green light.

“Moderna vaccine overwhelmingly approved. Distribution to start immediately,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

This follows a recommendation by an expert panel on Thursday to grant emergency use approval for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a formal approval on Friday. This would make Moderna’s vaccine the second to be approved in a Western country, following the one developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Mr. Trump’s announcement came as U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, his wife Karen, and the lead public health official in the country, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, received the COVID-19 vaccine live on television, in a public display designed to boost national confidence in the measure.

Signalling the importance given to the event, top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield were also in the room.

“Building confidence in the vaccine is what brings us here this morning,” Mr. Pence said after being injected at the White House, quipping: “I didn’t feel a thing.”

Mr. Pence indicated that formal approval for Moderna would be a matter of hours. “We have one, perhaps within hours two, safe and effective coronavirus vaccines,” he said.

The death toll from COVID-19 has crossed 310,000 in the U.S., with the country also at the top for the most number of cases. The U.S. this week began vaccinating healthcare workers and long-term care residents with the Pfizer vaccine.

Both the frontrunner vaccines are based on cutting-edge mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology, which had never been approved prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and both are two-dose regimens.

The U.S., which recorded more than 17 million cases of the virus, will probably become the first country to approve the Moderna vaccine.

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