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Europe's week: Vaccine approval close while Brexit talks still too close to call

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Europe's week: Vaccine approval close while Brexit talks still too close to call
Copyright  PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP
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Vaccine approval was the main headline this week in Europe, with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announcing its intention to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as early as Monday.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went one step further and informed the continent that the first vaccines would begin to roll out as a late Christmas present, on December 27.

She also acknowledged how difficult a task it will be to actually get people vaccinated.

Addressing the European Parliament Wednesday, von der Leyen said: "To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70 per cent of the population vaccinated. This is a huge task, a big task. So let’s start as soon as possible with the vaccinations together, as 27, with a start on the same day."

She added: “Finally, within a week, the first vaccine will be authorised so that vaccinations can start immediately, and more will follow in the new year,” she said.

But the announcement was clearly too late for French President Emmanuel Macron after he tested positive for COVID-19, going into self-isolation for the entire week.

The EU's approval of the vaccine, however, comes roughly three weeks after Britain's and over there it seems to be working well.

One country that has faced international criticism for approving a vaccine without finishing advanced trials though, is Russia.

Experts warned against the wider use of it until the studies are successfully completed.

But Vladimir Putin was having none of it this week.

Speaking at his annual press conference, he said: "The vaccine is good. I've said that many times - it's safe and efficient. 95 per cent or even 96-97 per cent - as the experts are reporting - of protection. And not a single case of any side effects.”

Brexit: Deal or no-deal

As vaccine approval inched closer, Brexit talks remained deadlocked, with both sides saying that a no-deal exit is the most likely outcome.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "things are looking difficult" in terms of reaching a deal, adding that he hoped his "EU friends will see sense" in following the UK's example in working to bridge the gap in their positions.

With just under two weeks to go before the post-Brexit transition period expires on December 31, time is fast running out.

But an agreement between the EU and UK isn't the final hurdle to be cleared.

MEPs will have to vote on any deal reached and they had some strong words for the British.

"We give until Sunday to Boris Johnson to make a decision," said Dacian Ciolos, President of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament. "The uncertainty hanging over citizens and businesses as a result of U.K. choices becomes intolerable", he added.

Whatever happens with Brexit, Christmas looks set to be a busy one for European politicians.