EU greenlights COVID-19 vaccine after agency gives safety OK

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A person enters the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, where the EMA's human medicines committee is holding an exceptional, fully virtual, meeting to conclude the evaluation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM – The European Union on Monday gave official approval for the coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer to be used across the 27-nation bloc, raising hopes that countries can begin administering the first shots to their citizens shortly after Christmas.

The EU’s executive commission gave the green light just hours after the European Medicines Agency said the vaccine meets safety and quality standards. Brussels had been expected to take two or three days to endorse the market authorization move.

“As we have promised, this vaccine will be available for all EU countries at the same time, on the same conditions," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “This is a very good way to end this difficult year, and to finally start turning the page on COVID-19.”

Deliveries of the vaccine are expected to start this coming Saturday, with inoculations beginning across the EU between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29.

Health care workers and other high-risk populations already have started receiving the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in Britain and the United States, prompting pressure from European governments for EU regulators to act more quickly than they originally planned.

Harald Enzmann, the head of the European Medicines Agency's expert committee, dismissed any suggestion that political influence had affected the decision.

“The focus was exclusively on the science,” he told reporters. “That was a scientific assessment, full stop.”

The Amsterdam-based EMA is responsible for approving all new drugs and vaccines across the 27 EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.