The European Union has given official approval for the coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, while the United States began distributing a second COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S.-based drugmaker Moderna.
The EU’s executive commission authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine across the 27-nation bloc, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the inoculation meets quality and safety standards.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said deliveries of the vaccine are scheduled to start Saturday, with inoculations beginning across the EU Dec. 27-29.
“This is a very good way to end this difficult year and to finally start turning the page on COVID-19,” she said of the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been given some form of regulatory authorization in more than a dozen countries, including Britain, Canada and the United States.
The U.S. has also given approval for emergency use of a vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, with shipments of the vaccine reaching hospitals Monday.
Nearly 6 million doses of the Moderna-NIH vaccine add to the 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipped last week for a vaccination effort that has started with front-line health care workers and nursing home residents.
An advisory panel of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted 13-1 Sunday to make Americans 75 and older, along with front-line essential workers, the priority for the next round of inoculations. The essential workers include first responders such as police and firefighters, teachers, employees of the U.S. Postal Service, public transportation employees, and workers in food and agriculture, manufacturing and grocery stores.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Monday during a publicly televised event, in an effort to convince Americans that the inoculation is safe.
“I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine. There’s nothing to worry about,” Biden said at a Delaware hospital not far from his home.
The 78-year-old Biden is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 because of his age. Biden’s wife, Jill, was also vaccinated Monday. A spokesman for Biden’s transition team says Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, will be vaccinated sometime next week.
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, along with Surgeon General Jerome Adams, received the Pfizer vaccine during a televised event Friday in Washington.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine was shown to be effective in late-stage trials in Brazil, citing people involved in the vaccine's development.
The Journal said Brazil is the first country to complete late-stage trials of Sinovac's vaccine, CoronaVac, which is also being tested in Indonesia and Turkey. It said Brazilian officials will announce the vaccine’s efficacy rate Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a growing list of nations banned most travel from Britain in response to a dramatic rise of infections because of a new strain of COVID-19 sweeping across southern Britain.
At least 14 European nations, including Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, announced a ban on all flights from Britain on Sunday. France also banned all travel from Britain at the iconic English Channel, forcing Britain to shut down all passenger and freight travel at the crucial port city of Dover, leaving scores of trucks carrying tons of goods stranded.
Other nations have also banned flights from Britain, including Canada, which announced Sunday night that it was halting flights from Britain for 72 hours. Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Iran and Israel are among the other countries that have also announced a ban on flights from Britain.
In all, more than 40 countries have instituted bans on arrivals at their airports from Britain.
The U.S. has not restricted flights from Britain, however, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has asked airlines flying into the state from Britain to make all passengers take a COVID-19 test before they get on the plane. Two airlines, British Airways and Delta Airlines, have agreed.
The World Health Organization cautioned Monday against major alarm over the new strain of COVID-19, noting there is no evidence that the strain is more lethal than existing known strains of the virus and that such mutations are a normal part of a pandemic's evolution.
“It's very important to tell the public the way it is, but it's also important to get across that this is a normal part of virus evolution," WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told an online briefing from Geneva.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions for both London and southern Britain on Saturday, including the closure of all nonessential businesses, such as gyms and hair salons, a limit on the number of people gathering indoors for the upcoming Christmas holidays, and a ban on nonessential travel.
In South Korea, officials banned gatherings of more than four people in the capital, Seoul, and surrounding areas over the Christmas and New Year holidays as the country on Monday recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus.
South Korean health authorities reported 24 COVID-19-related deaths as of midnight Sunday, its highest single-day death toll since the start of the pandemic. The country now has a total of 698 deaths out of 50,591 total infections, including 926 new cases on Sunday.
And in Australia, a cluster of COVID-19 infections in Sydney’s northern beaches has risen to 83 after 15 new cases were detected Sunday. The new cases were discovered after health authorities in New South Wales province tested a record 38,578 residents in Sydney. The northern beach suburbs have been placed under a strict lockdown until Christmas Eve.