As of Wednesday, around 1.86 million people have died because of Covid-19 since it broke out in China's Wuhan in December 2019
Europe's drug regulator gave the green light to Moderna Inc's Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, the second shot it has approved, as authorities accelerate inoculation efforts amid fears about more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
Vaccinating the European Union's 450 million people could be crucial to ending a pandemic that has killed almost 1.9 million people globally. The approval comes as countries are racing to contain two variants found in South Africa and Britain that are more transmissible and have driven a surge in infections.
The EU's European Medicines Authority (EMA) said it had given the go-ahead for the use of the Moderna vaccine on people aged over 18 following an assessment of the data on quality, safety and efficacy.
The final step before it can be rolled out across the European Union is approval by the bloc's executive body, the European Commission, which is expected to follow soon.
The decision, coming just over a year since the first outbreak of the virus was identified in China, marks the second regulatory authorization for Moderna's vaccine after the United States, and further validation of new genetic mRNA technology.
“This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency,” said Emer Cooke, EMA executive director.
The EU approved a shot from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, also based on mRNA technology.
The regulator has given a conditional marketing approval for both, rather than the ultra-fast emergency use clearance issued by Britain, which the EMA says requires more detailed study of the data.
Also Read - All eyes on Covid-19 vaccine
Effective against variant?
The EU has ordered 160 million doses of the shot developed by Moderna, a US biotech company, enough to vaccinate 80 million people in its 27 member states.
The vaccine was about 95% effective at preventing illness in clinical trials, which found no serious safety issues. It has to be stored and shipped frozen, but does not require the ultra-cold temperatures of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Once thawed, it can be kept at typical refrigerator temperatures.
The Dutch national drugs authority, the CBG, said the Moderna vaccine was expected to be effective against the variant of the coronavirus detected in Britain, but cautioned this had to be confirmed by further research.
The CBG added that the European Commission was expected to give the final stamp of approval to the shot later on Wednesday.
US record deaths
The United States breaks its own record for the number of daily virus deaths yet again, recording 3,936 in 24 hours, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
China blocks WHO mission
An expert mission to China to probe the origins of the pandemic is in disarray after Beijing denies entry to the World Health Organization team at the last minute despite months of painstaking negotiations.
With some members of the 10-person team already in transit, China denies them entry visas, prodding WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to say he was “very disappointed.”
It is “not just a visa issue,” Beijing foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insists. “The issue of origin-tracing is incredibly complicated,” she tells reporters.
UK's vaccine vow
Britain promises a "massive increase in the numbers" of its vaccination program, pledging that nearly 14 million people in the coming weeks will get a first dose.
Also Read - India to export Covid-19 vaccines within weeks
Last in line
The Netherlands administers its first shot to a nursing home worker, as it becomes the last country in the 27-nation EU to start its vaccination program.
More than 600 journalists have died of Covid-19 since March 1, a press freedom organization says, calling for media workers to have priority access to vaccines.
Of the 602 media workers known to have died from the virus, more than half were from Latin America, with 303 fatalities, Asia recorded 145 deaths, while 94 died in Europe, 32 in North America and 28 in Africa.
1.86 million dead
The coronavirus has killed at least 1,869,674 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally on Wednesday based on official sources.
The US is the worst-affected country with 357,377 deaths, followed by Brazil with 197,732, India with 150,114 and Mexico with 128,822.