As additional lockdown restrictions are imposed across Member States and with vaccinations having started in the United States and United Kingdom, Europeans are eagerly awaiting market authorisation from the European Medicine’s Agency for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
The EMA is expected to approve the vaccine at an extraordinary meeting on 21 December and then, within three days, the European Commission is set to give the green light. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has urged Member States to start vaccinating against Covid-19 as soon as possible. Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday, she said “To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70% of the population vaccinated. This is a huge task, a big task. So let’s start as soon as possible with the vaccination together, as 27, with a start on the same day”.
Von der Leyen emphasised that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first of six potential vaccines for which the EU has secured contracts through prior purchase agreements. Germany’s European Affairs Minister, Michael Roth, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, told MEPs that Europe would rather get the vaccination roll-out right than be first. “We need to also be careful that we don’t succumb to political pressures, when it comes to the authorisation process”.
German state health ministers agreed to start administering the first of the coronavirus vaccinations on 27 December, subject to EU authorisation timelines. Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said he and health ministers from seven nations including France and Germany are proposing vaccinations begin on the same day in December. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the first vaccinations in France could be carried out as early as the last week of December, which will be welcome news given the announcement yesterday that President Emmanuel Macron himself had contracted Covid-19.
While there is hope in the European institutions that there will be a coordinated, EU-wide inoculation process rolled out, ultimately national vaccination logistics plans and Member States own preparedness will determine whether or not this is feasible.
Von der Leyen also noted that the EU was working to give countries outside the bloc access to vaccines as well, saying “in total we have bought more than enough doses for everyone in Europe. And we will be able to support our neighbours and our partners around the world through COVAX so that no one is left behind.” COVAX is an initiative launched by the WHO, the European Commission and France to ensure that vaccines proven to be effective and safe are made available to all countries and not only rich ones able to pre-emptively purchase doses.