The European Union’s drug regulator on Monday authorized the use of the continent’s first coronavirus vaccine, enabling countries to begin inoculations next week in an urgent but complicated fight to ease the pandemic.
“It is a significant step forward in our fight against the pandemic,” said Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency, “not just for Europe but all over the world.”
The Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from December 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain where the roll-out began earlier this month.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed hope that countries would start the vaccination in unison in the days after Christmas.
Adding the populations of the U.S., U.K., and Canada, the new approval means that the vaccine will become available to a total population exceeding 850 million, with over 600 million of those in the approved group above 18 years of age.
Student medics, retired doctors, pharmacists and soldiers are being drafted into a European vaccination campaign of unprecedented scale.
“We are not yet at a turning point,” Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said in announcing the Pfizer-BioNTech authorization. “It will take time to roll out vaccines in sufficiently large numbers to enable all of our citizens to be protected.”
The goal of the 27-member European Union is to reach coverage of 70% of its 450 million people.