European Union Eyes Late-December Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout

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European Union Eyes Late-December Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout

Medical workers demonstrated a procedure in a coronavirus vaccination center standing ready in Cologne, Germany.

Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The European Union intends to start vaccinating citizens against Covid-19 as soon as Dec. 27, days after its planned decision on whether to authorize Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s shot.

The bloc has been criticized over the pace of its regulatory review of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is already being administered in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Saudi Arabia, despite being developed in Germany, an EU member.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Thursday that a vaccine rollout would begin in the 27-country bloc on Dec. 27, 28 and 29. A spokesman for Mrs. von der Leyen later noted that the rollout date was conditional on approval from the EU’s top drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

Earlier this week, the EMA said it would advance its review of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after coming under pressure from some governments, setting a new date of Dec. 21 to decide on whether to authorize it.

EMA officials have said they are moving as fast as they can without eroding trust in vaccines. Some health officials and medical institutions have warned that hasty authorization of a shot that uses novel technology would be a difficult sell on a continent where overall vaccination rates have declined.

EU officials have said their goal is for vaccinations to begin in all of the bloc’s countries on the same day.

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Saudi Arabia began inoculating its citizens and residents Thursday, rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after receiving two initial shipments.

Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah rolled up the sleeve of his traditional white robe to receive a jab on live television as part of a government effort to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“During the past nine months I was anxiously tracking the number of cases,” Mr. Rabiah told reporters. “Today I will begin happily tracking the number of vaccinations.”

The coronavirus has sickened more than 360,000 people in Saudi Arabia, more than 6,000 of whom have died, according to government reporting.

More than 150,000 Saudis have already registered via a phone app to get the shot, which the country is offering free to everyone over age 16, even those who have recovered from the illness.

Also Thursday, New Zealand said it had secured deals secured deals with two more vaccine makers, giving it enough shots to begin inoculating the entire country from the second quarter of next year.

The U.K. became the first Western nation to vaccinate patients against Covid-19. WSJ explains how the country is planning to roll out the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine at record speed, making it a test case for the rest of the world. Photo: Jacob King/Bloomberg News (Originally published Dec. 8, 2020)

The latest agreements with AstraZeneca PLC and Novavax Inc. would cover more than nine million people if the vaccines are approved by New Zealand’s regulators. The government had previously struck deals with Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and BioNTech.

New Zealand, a country of fewer than five million, has now ordered enough vaccines to cover 15 million people to allow for the possibility that some of the shots don’t succeed in the final phase of clinical testing.

The country plans to begin vaccinating those working at the border and in health care in the second quarter, and the general public the following quarter.

The nation is under less pressure than other countries to distribute vaccines, having successfully contained the spread of Covid-19, aided by its island geography and one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.

The government said border controls, which require all arrivals to quarantine for two weeks, won’t change until there is confidence the vaccinations are providing sufficient protection.

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Write to Stephen Kalin at stephen.kalin@wsj.com

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