The European Union has said there is no evidence to suggest that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will fail to protect against the mutated strain of the virus that has emerged in the United Kingdom. Medical regulator of the economic bloc approved use of jab on Monday.
"At this moment there is no evidence to suggest this vaccine will not work against the new variant," said Emer Cooke, Chief at European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Her comment came at a press conference announcing the approval of the shot after the EU's medicines regulator approved the use of the vaccine manufactured by the collaborative duo of American pharma giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech. Europe is to commence with inoculations within a week's time.
Post an expert meeting on Monday, the EMA declared their recommendation that the shot be licensed for use in people over the age of 16 years, barring some exceptions. The pharmaceutical companies will also need to submit follow-up data on their vaccines for the coming year. As the EU tries to catch up with the UK and the US, where the vaccination drive began earlier this month, countries such as Germany, France, Austria, and Italy had announced their plan to start inoculations by December 27.
The next hurdle in the vaccine-approval stage after EMA's nod is the green light to be given by the European Commission. This is also expected in the coming days, as the Commission typically follows the EMA's advice.
After Christmas preparations and celebrations in Southern England were shut off post the outbreak of a highly infectious, new strain of the coronavirus, countries worldwide stopped travel ties with the UK. The approval comes at a time when many governments in the EU are imposing tighter restrictions to curb the second wave of the virus after cases started surging in the winter months.
As of now, the bloc has witnessed about 4.7 lakh deaths.
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen had previously zeroed-in on the window of December 27-29 to start with the vaccination drive. Currently, pharmacists, soldiers, student medics, and retired doctors are being selected in large numbers for the European vaccination campaign.
This approach implies the prioritisation of healthcare workers and the elderly, and most national schemes will be extended to the general public at the end of the first quarter of 2021 at the earliest.
As of now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been given some form of regulatory authorisation in at least 15 countries.UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced on Saturday that a highly infectious new variant of the coronavirus is spreading in London and Southern England. According to him, the virus has been spreading for some weeks and is also 70 per cent more transmissible than any existing strains. But he also emphasised that "there's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
Johnson will chair an emergency response meeting on Monday pertaining to the issue of curbing the spread of the new strain, while EU officials are due to hold a meeting at 1000 GMT to coordinate on their response.