Europe’s medicines regulator on Monday approved the use of the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by U.S. company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, putting Europe on course to start inoculations within a week.
European Union countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from Dec. 27 as Europe tries to 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, which is expected later on Monday.
“Now we will act fast. I expect a European Commission decision by this evening,” Commission head Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.
Von der Leyen had already targeted the start of vaccinations over the Dec. 27-29 period.
«It’s a decisive moment in our efforts to deliver safe & effective vaccines to Europeans!» she said in a tweet.
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 told a news briefing that it was highly likely the vaccine would work against the new variant of the coronavirus.
EU member-states ready huge vaccination drive
The pandemic has killed about 470,000 Europeans and is picking up pace in the winter months, crushing economies in the process. Many governments have imposed tighter restrictions on households to try to curb a second wave of infections and avoid overwhelming healthcare systems.