Germany is pressuring EU authorities to speed up the approval of a coronavirus vaccine as it battles a surge in infections and Britain and the US begin mass inoculations, reports said Tuesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and Germany’s health ministry want the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to bring forward the approval date for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to December 23 from December 29, German newspaper Bild said, citing unnamed sources.
The delay in approval was raising questions over “the European Union’s ability to act”, Bild quoted a source as saying.
Berlin’s irritation is more acute as BioNTech is a German firm and the country is preparing to go into partial lockdown from Wednesday, with non-essential shops and schools to close.
Singapore and Bahrain have already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, with Canada inoculating its first citizen on Monday.
The United States kicked off its mass vaccination drive Monday hoping to turn the tide on the world’s biggest coronavirus outbreak, as the country’s death toll passed 300,000.
Health Minister Jens Spahn told the ZDF broadcaster on Monday evening that Germany’s goal is to have the vaccine approved before Christmas and to “start vaccinating this year”.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Spahn also said approval from the EMA should take place “as soon as possible”.
“All necessary data on BioNTech are available. UK + US have already issued approvals,” he wrote, adding that “confidence in the European Union’s ability to act is also at stake”.
Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus of the opposition liberal FDP party went further, calling it “unacceptable that a vaccine developed in Germany can only be approved and administered in January”.
Last week, the EMA said it had been the victim of a cyberattack.
Pfizer-BioNTech said documents relating to its regulatory submission were illegally accessed during the hack, which lasted two weeks.
Praised for its management of the first wave of the virus, Germany has been hit hard by the second, with 14,432 new cases and 500 deaths reported by the RKI disease control authority on Tuesday.
Last week saw a record high of nearly 30,000 new infections in one day.
To curb the spread of the virus, the government has ramped up restrictions, including shuttering non-essential shops, from Wednesday until at least January 10.
The German hospital association (DKG) has also expressed concern about the time taken by the EMA to validate the vaccine.
“I wonder if we really need until December 29 to get the vaccine approved in Europe,” its president Gerald Gass said in an interview with the RND broadcaster.
In theory, Germany could have the option of first going through its own national authorities to get the vaccine authorised, but like other EU countries, it chose to go through the EMA.
Spahn said Monday that once the product has been approved, he wants to vaccinate around 60 percent of the population by the end of summer 2021.