The European Medicines Agency (EMA), a regulatory body for the European Union (EU) has approved the deployment Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccination among member countries across the EU.
With the green light, EU countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have disclosed that plans had been concluded to start vaccinations from Dec. 27, 2020.
This, they claimed, was aimed at ensuring Europe catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month.
Having gained the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the final step is approval by the European Commission, expected later on Monday.
Confirming the approval through a social media post, the European Commission Head, Ursula von der Leyen, said that with the approval, the commission would also be deciding on its next plan.
“Now we will act fast. I expect a European Commission decision by this evening,” the post read.
Meanwhile, the Italian Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, hailed the approval as “the news we have been waiting for,” adding that it “opened up a new phase and gives us more strength and confidence,” in tackling a pandemic has killed about 470,000 Europeans.
Preparations for the vaccine rollout come as the identification of a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus in Britain caused chaos across the region, with countries shutting off travel ties with the UK and disrupting trade ahead of the Christmas holiday.
EMA officials said it was highly likely the vaccine would work against the new variant of the coronavirus.
EMA Executive Director, Emer Cooke, said that it would take a long time to inoculate the 450 million people of the 27 EU countries.
“Vaccines alone will not be the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normal lives, but the authorisation of this first vaccine is definitely a major step in the right direction and an indication that 2021 can be brighter than 2020,” she told a news briefing.
The roll-out will be a test for Brussels’ ability to unify Europe amid political pressure to speed up the process and tame the pandemic which has killed more than 1.6 million people globally.
The EU has ordered 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, enough to vaccinate 100 million people, paying 15.50 euros ($18.90) per dose.
It would also buy an extra 100 million with a timetable for delivery still to be negotiated.
EMA officials denied any political interference and defended the speed of the approval process.
“The focus was exclusively on the science, there were too many involved of the member states who would look into the science as to allow any political whitewashing or adaption,” said Harald Enzmann, chair of EMA’s Human Medicines Committee (CHMP).