The European Fee approves its use within the EU

A healthcare worker holds a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine bottle at the Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center in Glendale, California, United States on December 17, 2020.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The European Commission on Monday approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for conditional use, opening the door to a vaccination program across the European Union.

In a joint statement, the companies said they would start dispensing the vaccine doses immediately. In November, the European Commission signed a contract with Pfizer and BioNTech to secure 200 million doses in 2020 and 2021 with the option to receive an additional 100 million doses.

The decision follows a nod from the European Medicines Agency, which recommended that conditional marketing of the vaccine be granted to people aged 16 and over.

“The EMA’s scientific opinion paves the way for the first authorization for the placing on the market of a COVID-19 vaccine in the EU by the European Commission with all associated protective measures, controls and obligations,” said the agency.

The news comes less than two weeks after the vaccine developed in America and Germany was approved for use in the United States

Europe is well on its way to starting vaccinations within a week, regulators said, and authorities in several EU countries including France, Italy, Austria and Germany have announced they will start vaccinations on December 27.

The vaccine was first approved in the UK, where its historic launch began on December 7th. Late-stage clinical trials have shown it to be 95% effective in preventing Covid-19.

Vaccine approvals are picking up pace as European countries tighten their lockdowns in the face of a deadlier winter wave of viral infections.

A new and highly transmissible variant of the virus has been discovered in the UK, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose strict lockdowns on some areas. It has resulted in more and more countries stopping flights and transportation from the UK.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly half a million people across Europe since it began.

Governments scramble to put in place effective strategies to prevent further infections and keep the local economy alive as cases and deaths break new records during the holiday season.

– CNBC’s Christine Wang contributed to this report.

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