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The European Medicines Company approves the Pfizer vaccine to be used within the EU

A health care worker holds a bottle of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Dignity Health's Glignale Memorial Hospital and Health Center in Glendale, California, United States on December 17, 2020.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

The European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for conditional use on Monday, opening the door to a vaccination program across the European Union.

The news comes less than two weeks after the vaccine developed in America and Germany was approved for use in the UK and US.

Europe is well on the way to starting vaccinations within a week, regulators said, and authorities in several EU countries including France, Italy, Austria and Germany have announced that they will start vaccinations on December 27th.

The vaccine must be approved by the European Commission before it can be distributed. A decision is expected shortly.

The European Medicines Agency issued a statement on Monday that it had recommended that the vaccine be given conditional marketing authorization for people aged 16 and over.

"The EMA's scientific opinion paves the way for the first authorization for the placing on the market of a COVID-19 vaccine in the EU by the European Commission with all associated protective measures, controls and obligations," said the agency.

Vaccine approvals are picking up pace as European countries tighten their lockdowns in the face of a deadlier winter wave of viral infections.

A new and highly transmissible variant of the virus has been discovered in the UK, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose strict lockdowns on some areas. It has resulted in a growing number of countries ceasing flights and transportation from the island.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly half a million people across Europe since it began.

Governments scramble to put in place effective strategies to prevent further infections and keep the local economy alive as cases and deaths break new records during the holiday season.

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