European Union approves Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine as the bloc’s first vaccine against coronavirus

The European Commission approved the shot developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for the masses after its drug regulator authorised a conditional approval for the coronavirus vaccine, clearing the way for millions of doses to be released.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Monday said it was authorising the vaccine jointly produced by the American pharmaceutical giant and its German partner for use in people aged above 16.

“This is really a historic scientific achievement,” said Emer Cooke, the head of the agency. “It is a significant step forward in our fight against the pandemic.”

EU countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from December 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and the United Kingdom, where inoculations began earlier this month.

The conditional approval is valid for one year and can be renewed annually.

The vaccine is not made with the novel coronavirus itself, meaning there is no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognise the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.

The vaccination drive would be in a phased manner. First in line would be front-line healthcare workers and elderly residents of care homes, it’s unlikely for general public to get the jab until the end of the first quarter of 2021.

The goal of the 27-member EU is to reach coverage of 70 percent of its 450 million people.

The development comes amidst the discovery of a highly infectious new strain of the novel coronavirus in the UK.

The identification has sparked chaos across Europe and beyond, with several countries shutting off travel ties with the UK, disrupting trade.

EMA officials were optimistic about the vaccine working against the new virus strain.

The COVID pandemic has killed about 470,000 Europeans to date and is picking up pace in the winter months, crushing economies in the process.

Many governments have imposed tighter restrictions on households to try to curb a second wave of infections amid the holiday season.