The European Commission — the executive arm of the European Union — just gave approval for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine mere hours after the European Medicines Agency authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, according to the German media site Zeit Online.
This sets the stage for a logistically choreographed shipping process the likes of which the continent has never seen — with vaccines going to every European Union government later this week.
EU agency approves Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
The logistical process of buying, approving, and distributing shots throughout the E.U. is a complicated, highly-charged, and political challenge — with stakes rivaling previous world-historical moments in the continent.
The second wave is at full-tide in parts of the region, and most Europeans are living under some type of lockdown amid the holiday season — to say nothing of the bloc's shattered economies.
UPDATE Dec. 21, 1:10 PM ET: European agency approves vaccine for 'conditional marketing authorization'
"Our evaluation means that we can confidently assure EU citizens of the safety and efficacy of this vaccine and that it meets necessary quality standards," said Executive Media Director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Emer Cooke, in the agency statement.
The EMA has received noteworthy criticism in recent weeks for taking too long to give its vaccine recommendation. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was already authorized in the U.S. and Canada, along with several other countries.
Specifically, the EMA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for "conditional marketing authorization" — which is a regulatory mechanism designed to allow early access to drugs during times of "unmet medical need[s]," which includes a global pandemic.
UPDATE Dec. 21, 1:25 PM EST: German official pushed for COVID-19 vaccine authorization before Christmas
This latest news comes after most E.U. nations have imposed travel restrictions — which involves halting flights and trains from the U.K., where a novel strain of the virus has shown a greater capacity for transmission than previous iterations. But it remains to be seen whether the new strain causes more severe cases of the COVID-19 illness.
The EMA also said its recommendation for the EU to authorize the vaccine is a substantial milestone in the fight against the coronavirus crisis. "Today's news is an important step forward in our fight against the pandemic, which has caused suffering and hardship for so many," added Cooke, in the release.
Jens Spahn — the German Health Minister — is one of the officials who pushed for a faster process of vaccine authorization, NPR reports. According to Politico, he's said the goal was to authorize the vaccine before Christmas, so inoculations might start before the end of 2020.