EU regulators move up Pfizer vaccine assessment to Dec. 21

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Christmas lights shine over a virtually empty shopping street in the old town of Duesseldorf, Germany, on Monday afternoon, Dec. 14, 2020. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germanys 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the countrys lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

BERLIN – Facing strong pressure from Germany and other European Union nations, the bloc's medicines agency on Tuesday moved up a meeting to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to Dec. 21, likely bringing vaccinations a step closer for millions of EU citizens.

The agency said it made the decision after receiving additional data from the vaccine makers. The announcement came after Germany’s health minister and others had publicly demanded that the agency move quicker than its previously planned Dec. 29 meeting at which it was to discuss approving the vaccine.

The vaccine is already being given daily to thousands of people in Britain, Canada and the United States, galling some Europeans who note that BioNTech is a Germany company.

The European Medicines Agency said it’s human medicines committee “will conclude its assessment at the earliest possible timepoint and only once the data on the quality, safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are sufficiently robust and complete to determine whether the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks.”

After the committee recommends a marketing authorization, the EU’s Executive Commission will “fast track its decision-making process" to giving the vaccine approval for all 27 EU nations and a few others within days, the EMA said.

“Our goal is an approval before Christmas,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters earlier Tuesday in Berlin. “We want to still start vaccinating this year.”

Asked by The Associated Press whether he had received direct confirmation that the vaccine would be approved by Dec. 23, Spahn said he had, “otherwise I wouldn’t have said that.”

He added, however, “the EU has to announce it.”