The European medicines Agency (EMA) said this morning it has received a marketing application from AstraZeneca for its COVID-19 vaccine, already rolling out in the UK, and could give it the go-ahead later this month.
The filing for conditional marketing approval is scheduled for review by the EMA’s CHMP human medicine committee at a meeting on 29 January, and if all goes well it could be authorised on that day, according to the regulator.
The European Commission will then fast-track its decision-making process, says the EMA, with a view to granting a conditional marketing authorisation “within days”, a timeframe which was welcomed by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
AZ’s AZD1222 shot – which was developed with Oxford University – was cleared by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on 30 December, and since then it has also been given emergency approval in several other countries including India.
The filing comes as the EU is facing criticism for the slow roll-out of its coronavirus vaccination programme as infection rates soar in the 27 member states.
While individual EU countries make the decisions about who to vaccinate, the Commission is coordinating the acquisition and allocation of supplies, and there have been complaints the process is taking too long.
The US and Britain have both vaccinated 1%-2% of their populations, according to an Economist report citing figures from the Our World in Data website, while Israel is leading the field at 16%. In contrast, Germany has managed just 0.4%, France didn’t cross the 1,000 threshold until 4 January, and the Netherlands only started vaccinating until 6 January.
So far the EMA has conditionally approved two coronavirus vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech’s Comirnaty last month and Moderna’s candidate last week – and swift approval of the AZ vaccine should allow an acceleration in vaccination rates in the EU.
As it stands, the UK has vaccinated more people than the entirety of the EU combined, with the latest government figures indicating 2.3 million people have now received the first of two required doses, saying it plans to immunise all adults in the country by the autumn.
So far the effect of vaccination is imperceptible, however, as the UK recorded more than 46,000 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and 529 deaths, with NHS capacity creaking under the weight of over 32,000 people hospitalised with the infection.
The EU has 400 million doses of the AZ vaccine on order, part of a procurement programme that so far extends to 2.3 billion doses.
Last week the Commission said it intended to order an additional 200 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses, taking its total to 600 million doses.
It has also agreed deals for the supply of 160 million doses of the Moderna shot, 400 million apiece for candidates in testing at Johnson & Johnson and CureVac, and 300 million of a Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline candidate that has been delayed by clinical trial snags.
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