The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the European Union (EU) by its drug regulator. The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) decision came on the same day as the Netherlands began administering Pfizer vaccines that it has held since the end of December.
“This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency,” said Emer Cooke, Executive Director of EMA. “It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO.
“As for all medicines, we will closely monitor data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to ensure ongoing protection of the EU public. Our work will always be guided by the scientific evidence and our commitment to safeguard the health of EU citizens.”
The decision to approve the Moderna vaccine came just hours after nurse Sanna Elkadiri, 39, became the first person in the Netherlands to receive vaccination for the coronavirus. The decision will still need to be ratified by the EU’s executive commission but the bloc has come under fire recently for the perceived slowness of its vaccine rollout.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the ‘touching moment of unity’ as the EU administered its first vaccinations on December 27, but the landscape across the EU still remains unclear and uneven.
Despite the Netherlands receiving thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine in December, vaccines have only begun to be given out this week, while authorities in France have been criticized after only 500 received inoculation during the first week of their vaccinations programme.
“EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP) has thoroughly assessed the data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine and recommended by consensus a formal conditional marketing authorization be granted by the European Commission. This will assure EU citizens that the vaccine meets EU standards and puts in place the safeguards, controls and obligations to underpin EU-wide vaccination campaigns,” the European Medicines Agency said of their decision to approve the Moderna vaccine.
13 foreign ministers of countries in the EU have written a letter to the bloc’s executive asking that help be given to combat the virus in the areas surrounding the union, especially the Balkans. The joint letter expressed concern for the EU’s neighbours and asked that vaccines be sent to the Balkans and more done to combat the virus in Turkey.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden said the EU would not be safe from Covid-19 until countries on its borders could also recover from the pandemic.
“We strongly support the efforts and initiatives by member states and the European commission to share the vaccines from the allocated contracts with the closest EU neighbors, such as the Western Balkan countries,” the ministers said in the 6 January letter, which was made public.
Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said separately it was “our duty to extend a helping hand to EU partners in the east, Western Balkans and other regions.”
In Portugal, a country with a population of just 10 million, the daily number of cases reached a record high of 10,027 this week as officials prepare to approve an extension of the state of emergency that the country is currently in to fight the increase in infections.
Portugal has so far registered around 450,000 total cases and over 7,000 deaths from the virus as it reintroduces measures that it eased around Christmas, such as a travel ban between municipalities and cracking down on public gatherings.
Despite the reintroduction of these measures, the number of cases in the country is again rising quickly, leading to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa saying he was worried over the rise after the holiday season. Lawmakers will meet this week to discuss the possibility of extending the state of emergency.
“There’s again immense pressure on the national health service and we are trying to respond,” health minister Marta Temido said, with over 500 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units. “We need everyone’s help.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the coronavirus marathon has turned into a sprint to get as many vaccinated as quickly as possible and justified the decision to place the country under another national lockdown by claiming it will relieve crisis-hit hospitals.
Johnson highlighted the variant strain of the virus that emerged in south-east England last month and how it was spreading with “frightening ease and speed”, worsening one of the world’s worst death tolls.
Official data show that one in 50 people in England were infected last week, rising to one in 30 in London, and many hospitals say they are swamped with Covid-19 patients.
“It is inescapable that the facts are changing, and we must change our response,” Johnson told the House of Commons, noting the lockdown would stay in legal force until 31 March but would be reviewed in mid-February.