The European Union drug regulator approved the Moderna coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday after moving up a decision that had been scheduled for later in January.
The regulator, the European Medicines Agency, approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in late December after coming under criticism for being too slow, as Britain and the United States began rolling out vaccination campaigns before the European Union had even granted the drugs authorization.
The bloc, which is home to about 450 million people in 27 countries, has taken the lead in approving and ordering the vaccines on behalf of its members. The Pfizer vaccination was introduced in the final days of 2020 in most European Union countries, a few weeks behind Britain and the United States, but criticism has been growing that the process is taking too long and that there are not enough doses to go around yet.
The European Union has said that the availability of shots will pick up, along with production. The European Medicines Agency, which is based in Amsterdam, has also been criticized for not yet having started a review of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which has recently been approved for use in Britain and in India.
The European Union agency said that it needed more information to reach a decision of its own on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and that it expected the developers to share more data in January. The makers of the vaccine have not yet formally submitted a request to the European Union for approval.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech decision in December and the Moderna decision on Wednesday were moved forward by the European Medicines Agency, reflecting the political and economic pressure on developed countries that have multibillion-dollar contracts with the pharmaceutical companies not to be seen as falling behind their peers in mass immunization campaigns.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, will need to formalize the regulator’s approval before the Moderna vaccine is rolled out, a process that can take up to two days.