EU delays decision on Moderna vaccine as blame game heats up

The European Medicines Agency plans to meet again on Wednesday

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 24, 2020 a person unpacks a special refrigerated box of Moderna Covid-19 at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) in Boston, Massachusetts.  A Washington law student ended up getting more than just groceries during a recent supermarket trip, after randomly receiving a Covid-19 vaccination.
David MacMillan and his friend were at a Giant Food store in the US capital last week and were surprised when a worker in the supermarket's pharmacy section offered them each a shot.
 / AFP / Joseph Prezioso
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The EU’s drugs watchdog held off authorising Moderna’s coronavirus jab on Monday despite bringing forward a special meeting, as criticism mounts of the bloc’s slow launch of vaccines.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency said it would resume talks on Wednesday on whether to give the green light to the drug.

Under pressure from member states to speed up, the regulator fast-tracked the meeting to decide on approval from January 12 to Wednesday, then again to Monday.

Despite launching its immunisation campaign with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, on December 27, the EU’s progress has been far slower than that of in the US, Britain and Israel.

“EMA’s committee for human medicines discussion on Covid-19 vaccine [by] Moderna has not concluded today. It will continue on Wednesday,” the EMA said on Twitter.

“No further communication will be issued today by EMA.”

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 24, 2020 a person unpacks a special refrigerated box of Moderna Covid-19 at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020.  The EU medicines watchdog said it could decide later on January 4, 2020 whether to authorise Moderna's coronavirus vaccine, bringing forward the date from January 6.
The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency had already fast-tracked the decision from the originally scheduled date of January 12 under pressure from EU countries as infections soar.
 / AFP / Joseph Prezioso

The European Commission had earlier defended the bloc against criticism, and said its plans would get the EU past “bumps on the road”.

“It’s obvious that such a complex endeavour is always going to bring with it difficulties,” spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was developed in Germany, is the only one currently authorised for use in the EU since its fast-track authorisation by the EMA on December 21.

America uses it alongside the Moderna vaccine, while the UK as of Monday also started using one by Oxford University and British pharma company AstraZeneca.

EU states have lagged far behind. France, for instance, has given only about 500 people their first jabs. Germany has started to immunise about 200,000.

The Netherlands, the last member state to start vaccinations, said it would bring the start of jabs forward by two days, to Wednesday.

The European Commission emphasised it had bought access to almost two billion doses of six potential vaccines, enough to immunise the EU’s entire population twice.

US-based Moderna's jab was found to be 94.1 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 compared with a placebo in a clinical trial of 30,000 people, performing slightly better in younger adults than in the elderly.

The EMA said last week the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which was approved Wednesday in Britain, is unlikely to get a green light in the EU in the next month.

That the watchdog moved from London to Amsterdam after Brexit has itself fuelled commentary about how Britain had been able to move faster after leaving the EU.