The European Union’s (EU) drug regulator approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday as its member countries prepare to start the first inoculations after Christmas.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) signed off on the vaccine’s safety and quality, leading the EU’s executive commission to approve its use hours later.
“As we have promised, this vaccine will be available for all EU countries at the same time, on the same conditions,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, according to The Associated Press. “This is a very good way to end this difficult year, and to finally start turning the page on COVID-19.”
The EMA’s approval will allow the 27 EU member nations as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to get access to vaccinations starting between Dec. 27 and 29. Countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy said they intend to start vaccinations Dec. 27, Reuters reported. The U.K. and the U.S. started vaccinations earlier this month.
The European drug regulator originally intended to review the vaccine on Dec. 29. The date was moved up as governments urged a quicker response.
But Harald Enzmann, the head of the EMA’s expert committee, said the change in schedule was based “exclusively on the science,” according to the AP.
The EU has ordered 300 million doses of the vaccine. Recipients will get two doses, costing about $18.90 each, Reuters reported. The EMA will consider approving Moderna’s vaccine on Jan. 6, following its approval in the U.S. last week.
As in the U.S., the EU will prioritize certain groups of people for the vaccination effort, starting with front-line health care workers and elderly residents of nursing homes. The general population is expected to obtain the vaccine at the end of March at the earliest.
EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said it will take time to immunize the EU’s population of 450 million people.
“Vaccines alone will not be the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normal lives, but the authorization of this first vaccine is definitely a major step in the right direction and an indication that 2021 can be brighter than 2020,” she told a news briefing, according to the news services.
The EMA approval also comes as a new COVID-19 strain emerged in nearby England that is estimated to be 70 percent more transmissible than the original virus. More than 40 countries, including European nations, have banned flights from the U.K. due to the strain.
Cooke noted that “at the moment,” there’s “no evidence to suggest that the vaccine will not work against the new variant of the coronavirus.”