US, Europe develop vaccine plans

Source: AFP Published: 2020/12/2 17:13:41

Healthcare workers, at-risk groups to be prioritized

A sign is seen at the Research Centers of America on August 18 during the phase 3 COVID-19 trial of the Moderna vaccine in Hollywood, Florida, the US. Photo: AFP

The US and Europe on Tuesday fleshed out plans to administer COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they gain approval, with a US panel recommending that healthcare workers and nursing home residents be given top priority.

Hopes are high that shots could be ready for use before the end of 2020, with two frontrunner vaccines - by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer - already seeking emergency use approval on both sides of the Atlantic.

Companies have been racing to find a treatment for coronavirus, which has killed almost 1.5 million people and infected more than 63 million.

In the US, an advisory panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed that health care workers and nursing home residents - 24 million people in total - be the first in line for COVID-19 jabs.

Those two groups have accounted for about 40 percent of deaths in the US thus far.

But there won't be one set of rules for the entire nation of 330 million - the federal government can only make recommendations to states, which ultimately decide for themselves.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Tuesday it would hold an extraordinary meeting on December 29 "at the latest" to consider emergency approval for the vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech and US giant Pfizer.

Another meeting to assess the request from Moderna will take place no later than January 12.

Large-scale trial data released in November showed that both vaccines were safe and around 95 percent effective against COVID-19.

European Commission spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker told reporters that once the EMA gave regulatory permission, formal authorization from Brussels would follow "very quickly" - probably "in a matter of days."

The Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines are based on the same new technology - mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) is used to deliver genetic material to the body and make human cells create a protein from the virus.

This trains the immune system to be ready to attack if it encounters SARS-CoV-2.

Stock markets rallied Tuesday on the good vaccine news, though the surging number of new infections kept traders in check.

The announcement by the EMA gave European countries a much clearer timeframe for the start of their vaccination campaigns.

France plans to prioritize the most fragile and exposed groups in early 2021, followed by a second round for the rest of the population between April and June, President Emmanuel Macron announced.

Germany has already said it is hoping to launch its immunization drive in the first quarter of 2021 and is preparing vaccination centers across the country.

Spain announced Tuesday it would buy more than 50 million additional vaccine doses from three different labs, including Moderna, bringing the total number it will acquire to 105 million.



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