The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has become the second coronavirus jab to be approved for UK use.
It has been given the go-ahead by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The vaccine, codenamed AZD1222, was developed at Oxford University with support from the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
Results from clinical trials showed that it is up to 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, almost matching the protection by the rival Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the Oxford vaccine will start to be rolled out from 4 January and that it will help “accelerate” vaccinating the nation.
He said: “It’s very good news for accelerating the vaccine rollout. It brings forward the day we can get our lives back to normal.
“The vaccine is our way out of the pandemic.”
Although, he refused to put a figure on exactly how many people could be vaccinated in the new year.
But Mr Hancock did say the jab, which can be stored more easily than the Pfizer vaccine, means GPs and care homes will have better access to the vaccine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “It is truly fantastic news – and a triumph for British science – that the vaccine has been approved for use. We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for use.
“This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
“Now the NHS will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to roll out the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.”
The government said the vaccine rollout will change slightly to focus on giving as many at-risk people as possible the initial vaccine dose.
This was confirmed by Mr Hancock who also said the vaccine will still require two doses up to 12 weeks apart to help boost “long-term coverage”.
A statement said: “The JCVI has advised the priority should be to give as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible.
“Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first. The second dose completes the course and is important for longer term protection.
“From today the NHS across the UK will prioritise giving the first dose of the vaccine to those in the most high-risk groups. With two vaccines now approved, we will be able to vaccinate a greater number of people who are at highest risk, protecting them from the disease and reducing mortality and hospitalisation.”