Europe’s regulatory agency endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Monday, clearing the way for the jab to potentially be distributed and administered within a week. The approval still faces a final decision by the European Commission, which is expected to issue its verdict later on Monday.
“EMA has recommended granting a conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine Comirnaty, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in people from 16 years of age,” a press release posted to The European Medicines Agency (EMA) website said. “EMA’s scientific opinion paves the way for the first marketing authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine in the EU by the European Commission, with all the safeguards, controls and obligations this entails.”
The EMA faced increasing pressure over its approval process timeline, especially as Britain skipped ahead and grated the vaccine temporary authorization and the U.S. gave it the green light earlier this month.
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Several European countries have said they will begin administering the vaccine as early as Dec. 27 following the European Commission’s decision, Reuters reported.
“Now we will act fast,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission head, tweeted following EMA’s announcement. “I expect a European Commission decision by the evening.”
The news comes as health officials and researchers work to identify a new strain of coronavirus popping up in patients in the U.K. Several nations banned flights from the U.K. to prevent the strain from spreading across southern England.
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U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock called the “scientific evidence” on the new variant “sobering.” It comes as the country issued stark lockdown measures in an effort to stifle the spread. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the variant is up to 70% more transmissible and is driving a surge in new infections.
Researchers thus far do not believe that the variant causes infections any more severe than the previously identified strain of COVID-19. Across Europe, countries have limited travel to and from the U.K. in a bid to stop the spread.
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France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Italy, India, Poland and Ireland all announced restrictions on U.K.
The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year while Belgium issued a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight and also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar. France also announced that it was closing its borders for 48 hours.