The EU authority will approve the COVID-19 vaccine by December 23, says the German health minister

BERLIN: After days of pressure on the European Union’s medical supervisory authority, the German Minister of Health said on Tuesday (December 15) that he had received an assurance that the European Medicines Agency would approve a COVID-19 vaccine by December 23 .

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that he “welcomed” German media reports that the EMA would complete the approval process for the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by December 23 instead of a December 29 meeting.

“Our goal is a permit before Christmas,” said Spahn. “We want to start vaccinating this year.”

Later asked by The Associated Press if he had received direct confirmation that the vaccine would be approved by then, Spahn said he would have “otherwise I would not have said that”.

However, he added that “the EU must announce it”.

READ: Pressure is mounting on EU Medicines Agency to approve Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Spahn would not say from whom he had received the confirmation, and the EMA could not be reached immediately for comment on exactly when it would publish its results on the approval process.

The EMA later announced Tuesday that it had postponed the December 29 meeting to December 21.

When the change was announced, it said that upon receipt of additional data, “an extraordinary meeting is planned for December 21st … and should be completed if possible”.

Spahn had been impatient with the EMA for days and found that Germany had set up around 440 vaccination centers, activated around 10,000 doctors and medical staff and was ready to start mass vaccinations immediately.

Virus outbreak Germany

A couple of people are walking in the Christmas market in the old town in front of the town hall in Düsseldorf on December 14, 2020. (Photo: AP / Martin Meissner)

Italy, where the European coronavirus outbreak broke out in February and now leads the continent in the COVID-19 death toll, is also pressing for a safe, expedited approval process.

“I hope that, in accordance with all safety procedures, the EMA can approve the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine earlier than expected and that vaccinations can also start as soon as possible in the countries of the European Union,” said Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza in an explanation.

READ: Why us again? Italy is taking a disproportionate toll in the second wave of COVID-19

The new vaccine, developed by German BioNTech and American drug manufacturer Pfizer, is already being used in the UK, the US, Canada and other countries. However, Germany cannot start vaccinations as it is still awaiting approval from the EMA, which evaluates drugs and vaccines for the 27 EU countries.

Seeing many Germans get the vaccine administered to thousands of people elsewhere was annoying for many Germans.

“It cannot be that a vaccine developed in Germany will not be approved and vaccinated until (here) in January,” said Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus, federal legislator for the business-friendly Free Democrats.

The German Hospital Association on Tuesday demanded that the EU shorten its lengthy approval process and issue emergency approval for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

“I wonder if we really need until December 29th to get vaccination approval in Europe – Europe should try to get emergency approval sooner,” Gerald Gass, president of the hospital association, told the RND media group . “That way we could go to nursing homes with mobile teams and vaccinate the residents before Christmas.”

Virus outbreak Germany

People with masks will pass a Christmas stand in downtown Düsseldorf on December 14, 2020. (Photo: AP / Martin Meissner)

EMA chief Emer Cooke said Monday that her team was already working “around the clock,” but added that the vaccine approval schedule is under constant review, suggesting the date may change.

Part of the problem could be that the EU is trying to start vaccinations in all of its countries at the same time, and Germany may be better prepared than others.

READ: Poor Countries Have Long Wait For COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Promises

Spahn’s growing fear comes from the fact that Germany has set records for new daily infections and virus deaths in recent weeks. Hospitals and medical groups across Germany have also repeatedly warned that they are reaching their limits in the care of COVID-19 patients. On Tuesday, 4,670 COVID-19 patients were treated in German intensive care units.

The nation is in a tough deadlock on Wednesday as schools and most businesses close until at least January 10th to halt the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases.

According to Spahn’s ministry, Germany is ready to administer 3 to 4 million BioNTech vaccine doses in January and up to 11 million doses in the first quarter of 2021.

By the end of summer, the country could vaccinate up to 60 percent of German citizens, said Spahn on Monday evening on the public broadcaster ZDF. The World Health Organization says around 60 to 70 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to successfully fight the pandemic.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s central disease control center, reported 14,432 new confirmed cases and 500 new deaths on Tuesday, the third highest number of daily deaths since the pandemic began. Germany has counted a total of over 22,600 virus deaths, which is still a third of the death toll in Italy or Great Britain.

The head of the institute warned that the number of cases would continue to rise for some time after Germany was blocked on Wednesday.

“People over 80 are more and more affected, and these are the people who get seriously ill or die.” Warned Lothar Wieler.

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