By Imane Rachidi
Brussels/The Hague, Dec 21 (efe-epa).- The European Commission on Monday authorized the use of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, just a few hours after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) confirmed that it is safe and effective, a move that opens the door as of next weekend to vaccination campaigns in all countries of the European Union.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a brief appearance before the media that the authorization begins “an important chapter” in the fight against the pandemic and will allow vaccination campaigns to be launched starting next Sunday in all EU countries, which will receive their first shipments of the vaccine from Pfizer’s factory in Belgium “in the coming days.”
She said this was a “good way” to end 2020, which she called a “difficult year” and to finally begin turning the page on Covid-19, calling the vaccine a product developed with true European innovation and a real European success story, given that BioNTech is Pfizer’s German partner.
Meanwhile, EMA director Emer Cooke called the support provided to the pharmaceutical partnership a significant step in the fight against the pandemic.
The conditional approval includes the appropriate guarantees, controls and obligations for the pharma firms and provides a solid basis for launching vaccination programs according to an ongoing plan of control and supervision, Cooke said.
The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for the vaccination of all 446 million citizens of EU countries in a “safe, efficient and fair” manner because the vaccines are “our ticket” for getting out of the pandemic and getting EU member states’ economies back on track.
One of the main concerns is that the latest mutation undergone by the coronavirus, thus giving rise to a new strain of the virus detected in the United Kingdom that is up to 70 percent more contagious than the original strain that has prevailed to date.
It is not yet known whether this new strain will have a direct effect on the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine or on the one manufactured by Moderna that, presumably, will be approved by the EMA on Jan. 6.
Cooke said that, at present, there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine will not work against the new variant of the virus, but everyone must still do their part to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and that includes continuing to follow expert health advice such as using facemasks, washing hands and social distancing.
The authorization provided to Pfizer is “conditional,” meaning that the pharma firm must keep the EMA informed on a “monthly” basis on the results of the monitoring it must do on its vaccination campaigns so that authorities can evaluate whether or not to grant the company an official marketing authorization.
The clinical trials run by Pfizer on 42,000 people older than age 16 who received injections of the vaccine determined that it has a 95 percent effectiveness rate at shielding them from coronavirus infection and causes only mild and “normal” side effects, if any. It is not yet known with certainty, however, how long this protection lasts.