European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that the first European citizens might be vaccinated before the end of December.
In an address to the European Parliament, she said there is finally light at the end of the tunnel and that EU member states should start preparing to distribute vaccines.
“What counts is vaccinations. Member states must get ready now. We’re talking about millions of syringes, we’re talking about cold chains, we’re talking about organising vaccination centres, we’re talking about trained personnel that is there. You name it. All this has to be prepared.”
The EU signed a deal with Moderna on Wednesday to secure 160 million doses of the US biotech company’s vaccine which was found to be 94.5% effective at protecting against COVID-19.
Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca are submitting data from their vaccine trials on a rolling basis to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the body in charge of approving vaccines in the EU.
EMA director Emer Cooke said on Wednesday that she was “very hopeful” the body would be able to approve all coronavirus vaccines seeking a green light before Christmas.
Speaking to RTE radio, she reassured that “all going well, we would be very hopeful that we could have a positive opinion before Christmas.”
Drugmakers have said they would be able to ship doses of their shots within hours of receiving approval from regulators.
Christmas risks sparking COVID-19 third wave
While vaccines have provided hope that the end of the pandemic could be in sight, hospitals across Europe are still strained by the coronavirus and for most countries, infection rates are far too high to return back to normal life.
Ursula von der Leyen called on EU leaders not to loosen restrictive measures too quickly on Wednesday, saying they risk repeating history.
“We must learn from the summer and not repeat the same mistakes. Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for the third wave after Christmas. Weeks ago I have said that this Christmas will be different. And yes, it will be quieter,” she said.
The comments were made amid promises from European leaders that measures will be relaxed over the Christmas period. France, Ireland and the UK all have announced plans to loosen restrictions in the lead up to Christmas — including letting people visit friends and family over the festive period.
French MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir sits on the European Parliament’s Health Committee and she echoed the warnings given by the Commission President.
“We should really not relax too much because there is a great risk of a resurgence of the pandemic.”
“We have to find a difficult balance between sanitary needs and the mental health of citizens, not to mention the economy and social disasters generated by the lockdowns,” she said.
The European Commission has pushed for the EU to have a coordinated response to the pandemic, but while Trillet-Lenoir wishes this was possible, she has her doubts that the bloc is capable of doing this.
“I think the best thing would be to have homogeneous recommendations but this would need EU health competencies which we still don’t have. There is an improvement in the way governments talk to each other, exchange practises and how they try to coordinate policy, but we are far from this,” she argued.