World News

EU states to start COVID-19 vaccinations from Dec. 27

BERLIN (Reuters) - European Union states will start vaccinations against COVID-19 in 10 days as Europe tries to catch up with Britain and the United States after what some have criticised as a slow EU approval process for the shots.

The Dec. 27 start date - confirmed by EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, Austria, Germany and Italy - will be almost three weeks after the world’s first fully tested COVID-19 vaccination was administered in England.

“In Germany we will start, if the approval comes as planned, on Dec. 27. The other countries in the EU want to be able to start and want to start from Dec. 27,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said before an online meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and executives from vaccine maker BioNTech.

However, the Dutch took a different tack, opting to wait until Jan. 8 to launch their vaccination programme, citing the need for trust in the process.

Germany and other EU members have been waiting for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the vaccine developed by U.S. drug company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. The EMA is expected to make an announcement on Dec. 21.

A senior EU official said on Wednesday the bloc could give final approval for the vaccine on Dec. 23.

Von der Leyen confirmed the planned timetable for the start of inoculations for the EU’s 450 million citizens.

“On 27, 28 and 29 December vaccination will start across the EU,” she wrote on Twitter.

Italy said it would start vaccinating health workers on Dec. 27. Vaccinations will also start in Austria on that date, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter.

Student medics, retired doctors, pharmacists and soldiers are being drafted into a European COVID-19 vaccination campaign of unprecedented scale.

In Britain, around 140,000 people have already received the jabs, BioNTech Chief Medical Officer Oezlem Tuereci said.

Merkel said Germany was looking forward to starting life-saving vaccinations, a day after the country reported 952 deaths related to the coronavirus, its highest daily number yet.

“If we look at how many people are dying of coronavirus now, we know how many people this (vaccine) can save,” she said.

Tuereci said the “marathon” was not over yet for the vaccine maker.

“Our team here at BioNTech has been working through nights and weekends, has put off vacations. They will continue over Christmas to make sure delivery can happen quickly,” she said.

The EMA also said it was speeding up efforts to approve another vaccine being developed by Moderna, bringing forward a review to Jan. 6 from an original date of Jan. 12.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Maria Sheahan and Keith Weir; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood