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EMA brings forward review for Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine as date set for EU vaccinations to begin

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FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2020 photo, a droplet falls from a syringe after a health care worker was injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2020 photo, a droplet falls from a syringe after a health care worker was injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.   -   Copyright  David Goldman/AP Photo
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The European Union's medicines regulator on Thursday set an exceptional meeting earlier next year to bring forward the assessment of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will now meet earlier than planned on January 6 to review the application to authorise the COVID-19 vaccine. It was originally scheduled for January 12.

It comes as EU chief Ursula von der Leyen confirmed European countries will begin vaccinating people against coronavirus on December 27.

"It's Europe's moment. On 27, 28 and 29 December vaccination will start across the EU. We protect our citizens together. We are #StrongerTogether," she tweeted.

At a midday press conference, an EU spokesperson said vaccines would start being delivered to member states on December 26.

The announcement was made just days after the EMA said they would move up their committee meeting to December 21 to conclude their evaluation of a conditional marketing authorisation for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech.

The announcement by von der Leyen came shortly after German health minister Jens Spahn said the country would begin its vaccination campaign on December 27.

Brussels has indicated that although member states are to receive the vaccine — manufactured in Belgium and Germany — on the same day, it will be up to them to organise and coordinate their own vaccination campaign.

The European Commission (EC) had urged member states to get ready in October when it unveiled its vaccination strategy by ensuring they could store and transport it appropriately and have the necessary medical staff and equipment to carry out to procedure.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at -80°C and requires two shots three weeks apart to be effective.

EC has secured up to 300 million doses of the vaccine, which should therefore benefit up to 150 million Europeans.

But the doses will take months to be delivered as the companies have said they can produce 1.3 billion shots over the next year. Millions of doses have already been dispatched to the UK, Canada, and the US where authorities have already approved it and started large-scale vaccination campaigns.

Brussels has previously said it will allocate vaccines to the 27 member states based on population size and advised that certain groups be prioritised given that the number of doses will be limited.

These include health care and long-term care facility workers, people over the age of 60, those with pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable, essential workers, people who cannot socially distance, and more disadvantaged socio-economic groups.

The Commission has also struck Advance Purchase deals with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica, CureVac and Moderna.

The Wider European region is the second most impacted globally after the Americas, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), with more than 22 million infections and 500,000 fatalities confirmed since the beginning of the pandemic.