EU approves 94% effective Moderna vaccine

Authorisation is a shot in the arm for Europe's sluggish Covid-19 inoculation campaign

epa08921955 (FILE) - The Moderna COVID-19 vaccination at LAFD Station 4 in Los Angeles, California, USA, 28 December 2020 (reissued 06 January 2021). The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended the authorization of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the EU.  EPA/Gary Coronado / POOL

The European Union's medicines regulator has approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US company Moderna.

The approval of the 94 per cent effective drug will help accelerate Europe's sluggish vaccine strategy, which has drawn heavy criticism over lack of supplies and inefficiencies in the distribution chain.

It is the second Covid-19 vaccine to be given the green light for EU nations after the Pfizer/BioNTech shot was approved before Christmas.

"This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency," European Medicines Agency chief Emer Cooke said.

"It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO."

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was "good news for our efforts to bring more Covid-19 vaccines to Europeans".

National capitals have been piling pressure on the Amsterdam-based EMA to authorise the Moderna drug as the number of coronavirus cases soars across Europe.

The regulator failed to decide on approval at a meeting on Monday, which had been brought forward from January 12, and experts met again on Wednesday. The EMA said it had been "working hard to clarify all outstanding issues with the company".

The EU began vaccinating on December 27 but the pace has been slow, with the Netherlands on Wednesday becoming the last country in the bloc to start.

European Council chief Charles Michel said late on Tuesday that he hoped for Moderna approval in "coming hours" and that leaders would hold a virtual summit on the health crisis later this month.

He said that delivering vaccines to almost 450 million people in the EU was a "gigantic challenge".

"Alongside member states, the European Commission is working night and day to make sure we can increase the number of vaccines available," he said.

The US uses the Moderna vaccine as well as the Pfizer/BioNTech drug, while Britain as of Monday also bolstered its programme with a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

Moderna's vaccine was found to be 94.1 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19, compared to a placebo in a clinical trial of 30,400 people. It performed slightly better in younger adults compared to the elderly.

The EMA said last week that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is unlikely to be granted EU approval in the next month. The fact that the watchdog moved from London to Amsterdam after Brexit has itself fuelled speculation about how Britain has been able to move faster after leaving the EU.