German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday it is “imperative” for Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting and resume talks ahead of an emergency meeting this week with his EU counterparts.
The “highly explosive” situation in the region could lead to “unforeseeable consequences”, Maas warned in a tweet, adding: “It is imperative that we prevent this from happening.”
“What is needed now is: 1. an end to the rocket attacks, 2. an end to the violence and 3. a return to talks between Israelis & Palestinians and on a two-state solution,” he said.
European Union foreign ministers will hold urgent video talks on the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.
“In view of the ongoing escalation between Israel and Palestine and the unacceptable number of civilian casualties, I am convening an extraordinary VTC of the EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter Sunday.
“We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence.”
The heaviest fighting since 2014 between Israel and Islamist group Hamas, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has claimed 174 lives in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza and killed 10 people in Israel since Monday.
The European Union says Borrell has been conducting “intense” diplomatic efforts to try to help de-escalate the violence — holding talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and the top diplomats from neighbouring nations.
“The EU’s priority and message in this context remain clear: violence must end now,” the bloc’s foreign service said in a statement Saturday.
The EU’s 27 nations often struggle to find a common position over the conflict with some members including Germany, Austria and Slovenia firmly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and others urging it to show greater restraint.
The EU on Wednesday sharply revised its growth forecasts for this year and next, saying an accelerated vaccination drive and the bloc’s landmark recovery plan would lift Europe out of recession.
“Recovery is no longer a mirage. It is under way,” EU economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told a media conference.
The pickup in growth confirms forecasts by the IMF and other data that showed an increase in manufacturing and greatly improved confidence by consumers who see a happy end to the long winter of Covid-related restrictions.
Europe also hopes to quiet criticism that it has fallen short in jumpstarting its economy compared to the US where the economic activity has already roared ahead on the back of major stimulus plans.
According to the European Commission, growth in the 19 countries that use the euro currency will hit 4.3 percent in 2021 and 4.4 percent in 2022, compared with 3.8 percent for these years in its previous estimate given in February.
For the full 27 members of the EU, the commission said the economy will expand by 4.2 percent in 2021 and by 4.4 percent in 2022.
“The shadow of Covid-19 is beginning to lift from Europe’s economy,” Gentiloni said, though he cautioned that “the risks of a scarring effect remains real”.
If the growth is confirmed, the European economy will have sped out of a second recession in less than year, after a slow rollout of Covid vaccines stymied a first economic recovery in the winter of 2020-21.
It would still be trailing the other two biggest economies in the world, however. The United States is forecast to reach growth of seven percent this year — its fastest pace since the 1980s — and China is looking similarly buoyant.
– Public debt –
The EU said public debt in the eurozone will be at historic levels, with a debt pile stuck at above 100 percent of annual GDP over the next two years.
This public debt is particularly high in Greece, at 208.8 percent in 2021, and Italy at 159.8 percent of GDP.
But despite the historic budget-busting, Gentiloni insisted that major public spending “has been –- and remains -– essential in helping Europe’s workers and companies to weather the storm”.
That includes the EU’s landmark 750-billion-euro ($910-billion) recovery plan, which was decided almost a year ago but is expected to only start paying out later this summer.
Gentiloni said that, largely thanks to that recovery package, “the EU is now projected to recover to its pre-crisis level in the fourth quarter of ’21” and the eurozone would reach that point in the first quarter of 2022.
Out of the major eurozone economies, Spain and France, which were particularly hard hit in 2020, will have the highest growth rates in 2021, both nearing six percent, according to the Commission’s estimates.
Growth will be more moderate in Germany, at 3.4 percent, and the Netherlands, at 2.3 percent, as they were slightly less affected last year.
The European Union (EU) has been of help to Nigeria in diverse ways, including humanitarian and trade relations, President Muhammadu Buhari has said.
The President spoke Tuesday at State House, Abuja, while receiving in a farewell audience, the Ambassador/ Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, His Excellency Ketil Karlsen.
He appreciated the fact that the EU remains the largest trading partner with Nigeria, while members of the Union equally remain the largest investors.
President Buhari thanked the outgoing Ambassador for facilitating the visits of French and German leaders during his tour of duty, noting that it was during Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s visit that the door to a relationship with Siemens of Germany on power was opened.
Ambassador Karlsen, who spent four years here, said he enjoyed “excellent collaboration” with President Buhari, and with Nigeria, saying the cooperation included trade, military, humanitarian assistance, and many others.
The European Union said Monday it has launched legal action against pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over coronavirus vaccine delivery shortfalls that hampered efforts to kickstart inoculations across the bloc.
“The Commission has started last Friday a legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breaches of the advanced purchase agreement,” EU spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said.
“Some terms of the contract have not been respected and the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure the timely delivery of doses.”
De Keersmaecker said the action was launched by the EU executive “on behalf of the 27 member states that are fully aligned in their support of this procedure”.
“What matters to us, in this case, is that we want to make sure that there’s a speedy delivery of a sufficient number of doses that European citizens are entitled to, and which have been promised on the basis of the contract,” he said.
British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca dismissed the legal action as “without merit” and insisted “we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible”.
“AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court,” it said in a statement.
The commission and company have been locked in a feud over a major shortfall in deliveries that hobbled early efforts in the bloc to roll out jabs.
– ‘Best reasonable efforts’ –
AstraZeneca said it is due to have delivered about 50 million doses to Europe by the end of April, but that is far lower than the amount Brussels insists should have come.
The commission said the firm only provided 31 million of 120 million expected doses in the first three months of this year.
The company has warned it will send just 70 million from another 180 million doses initially promised by June.
AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss Pascal Soriot has argued that his company’s contract with the EU binds it only to a “best reasonable efforts” clause.
But the commission says the rest of the contract shows greater legal responsibility than that, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.
The commission — which has been responsible for procuring vaccines for all of the bloc — informed member states last week of its plans to take the company to court and pressed for support from national governments.
Diplomats said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court — the jurisdiction agreed under the commission’s contract with the firm.
The EU initially intended to use the AstraZeneca jab as the main workhouse to power the bloc’s inoculation drive — but has now switched to the more expensive BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine as its mainstay.
Pfizer is expected to deliver 250 million doses across the EU during the second quarter of this year as the 27 nations look to meet a target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July.
The bloc is hoping an uptick in deliveries — which also includes the Moderna and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jabs — can help it gain ground on inoculation pacesetters like the United States and Britain.
Public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab has also taken a blow over worries of links to very rare blood clots in the brain.
Some member states have restricted use to older people despite the bloc’s medicines agency insisting the jab’s benefits outweigh the risks.
The European Commission is looking to launch legal action against AstraZeneca for underdelivering Covid-19 vaccine doses to the EU, hobbling the bloc’s early rollout of jabs, EU diplomats said Thursday.
The EU executive informed member state envoys of its plans on Wednesday, the diplomats told AFP, confirming information first published by the Politico website.
They said any lawsuit against AstraZeneca would begin in a Belgian court — the jurisdiction agreed under the commission’s contract with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company.
One EU diplomat said the commission wanted EU member states — which also had a role in negotiating the vaccine contracts for the bloc — to back the lawsuit and to say so by the end of this week.
“The problem is that the member states do not know the complaint” being formulated, the diplomat said. “It is a sensitive procedure and you do not want to further damage trust in the vaccine.”
Another diplomat said that “not all member states are in agreement” on taking the company to court, stressing that their aim was simply to have AstraZeneca deliver the doses it had promised in its contract.
So far, AstraZeneca has delivered just 30 million of the 120 million doses it had promised, and it has warned it will likewise provide just 70 million of the 180 million more meant to be delivered over the rest of this year.
Public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab has taken a blow after the European Medicines Regulator said it was likely linked to a very rare, but often fatal, form of blood clots affecting the brain.
The EMA and the commission have not changed their stance on the general use of AstraZeneca, saying its benefits outweighed the risks, but several EU countries have restricted it to older citizens, aged over 50, 55, or 60.
– ‘Best efforts’ – AstraZeneca’s French-Australian boss, Pascal Soriot, has argued that his company’s contract with the EU binds it only to a “best reasonable efforts” clause.
But the commission says the rest of the contract shows greater legal responsibility than that, and EU diplomats and lawmakers have pointed out that the company has largely delivered promised doses to Britain, where it is headquartered.
The European Commission did not confirm the reports of planned legal action.
“What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company’s earlier commitments,” a spokesman said.
“Together with the member states, we are looking at all options to make this happen,” he said
The EU’s drug regulator said Friday it had launched a review of possible links between the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine and blood clots after reports of four cases, one of them fatal.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its safety committee “has started a review of a safety signal to assess reports of thromboembolic events” with people who had received the shot.
“Four serious cases of unusual blood clots with low blood platelets have been reported post-vaccination with Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen,” the EMA said, referring to US pharma giant J&J’s European subsidiary.
“One case occurred in a clinical trial and three cases occurred during the vaccine rollout in the USA. One of them was fatal.”
The watchdog has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for use but its rollout across the 27-nation EU is not due to start until later this month.
The probe comes days after the Amsterdam-based watchdog said it was listing the same type of blood clots as a very rare side effect of the rival AstraZeneca vaccine.
Both jabs use similar adenovirus vector technology.
The European Union will look for ways to end its vaccine struggles at a summit on Thursday, as a COVID-19 surge takes the death toll in Brazil past 300,000.
A crucial tool in the fight against the pandemic, vaccines were in the spotlight again with AstraZeneca revising down the efficacy of its shot from 79 to 76 percent after a US agency raised concerns about outdated numbers.
AstraZeneca’s jab is also at the centre of the EU’s vaccine woes, with an infuriated Brussels tightening export controls after the firm failed to deliver the doses it had promised to the bloc.
EU leaders will meet via videoconference on Thursday to discuss AstraZeneca supplies, as well as new vaccine export rules that will weigh how needy countries are in terms of infection rates, how many jabs they have, and how readily they export doses to the bloc.
“Open roads should run in both directions,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
Britain, which has raced ahead with its immunisation drive, is seen as one of the targets of the new export rules after a bitter spat over vaccine supplies.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the EU risked long-term damage to its reputation if it imposed “a blockade”.
The talks come as Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands tighten restrictions to control surges in cases.
Mass vaccination programmes are considered vital to ending the pandemic, which has claimed more than 2.7 million lives around the world, hammered the global economy, and left much of humanity under punishing restrictions.
“We were just waiting to be all together again because we were really sad to be divided like that, floor by floor,” said Lydie, a 91-year-old resident of a retirement home in France’s Val-de-Marne, where vaccinations have allowed an easing of curbs.
“There was no joy. Now it’s very good. We are happy.”
– ‘Locked up’ – Governments are trying to ramp up vaccinations, racing against the virus which is surging once again in many parts of the world.
Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll passed 300,000 on Wednesday, the second-highest number of fatalities in the world, with its hospitals pushed to the brink.
At a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro marking 300,000 virus deaths in Brazil, protesters held signs that read “Shame” and laid 30 roses on symbolic patient beds in front of a hospital.
Mexico, another hard-hit Latin American nation, neared 200,000 deaths, as authorities pressed on with a vaccination programme.
“How have we spent (the pandemic)? Locked up,” said Miguel Molina, 75, who got a jab in Mexico City.
“I have (spent) a year and three months locked up, without going out. This is the first time I go out.
– ‘Bump in the road’ – The AstraZeneca shot was hailed as a breakthrough because it is cheaper and easier to store and transport compared with other vaccines.
But beyond production and supply issues, it has faced other challenges that have dented confidence.
AstraZeneca was forced to review its US trials and then slightly revise down the jab’s efficacy from 79 percent to 76 percent after an American agency raised concerns about outdated information.
Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci had said the discrepancy was a “bump in the road” and that data would show it is “a good vaccine”.
Where the EU vaccine rollout has stuttered, there has been huge progress in the United States — the world’s worst-hit nation.
Around 70 percent of Americans aged 65 or over — more than 38 million people — have received at least one dose, and hospital admissions for Covid-19 in that group are down 85 percent since early January.
But the pandemic threat is far from over, illustrated by the recent decision to bar overseas fans from the already delayed Tokyo Olympics.
The torch relay for the Games got off to a low-key start Thursday and organisers hope it will build excitement.
But Tetsuya Ozawa, among a small group of fans, told AFP it was not much fun without spectators.
“There would have been more excitement if there wasn’t coronavirus.”
Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Monday that trials showed its Covid-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease, as a row simmered between Britain and the EU over much-needed supplies of the jab.
The AstraZeneca shot is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals, but several countries in Europe and other parts of the world last week suspended its use because of isolated cases of blood clots.
It is also at the centre of a row between Britain and the EU, after Brussels threatened to ban exports to the UK unless the company delivers more of the 90 million doses it agreed to supply in the first quarter of 2021.
Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said such a move would be “a very retrograde step,” while Britain’s leader urged the European Union not to carry out its threat.
“We’re all facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.
The spat is mostly focused on a Netherlands factory that is still awaiting official EU approval, but which both sides claim as a future source of the AstraZeneca jab.
– Exiting the pandemic –
Vaccination drives are seen as crucial to overcoming the pandemic that has killed more than 2.7 million people since first emerging in China in late 2019.
They are also the most likely route out of lockdowns and restrictions that continue to paralyze economies around the world.
A top US health official on Monday warned Americans it was too soon to resume travel despite progress in the battle against the coronavirus, after data showed the country recorded its highest number of airport check-ins since last year.
“Now is not the time to travel,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters, urging people to keep up with measures to stem the spread of the virus as the vaccination rate increases.
More than 430 million jabs have now been rolled out globally, mostly in wealthier nations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday slammed the “grotesque” vaccine gap, calling it a “moral outrage.”
“Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries,” he said.
Even as demand for vaccines remains high, public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab in particular has taken a knock in Europe.
A survey by British pollsters YouGov showed Monday that a majority of people in the biggest EU states — including Germany, France, Spain and Italy — view the vaccine as unsafe.
And on Monday, Iceland said it would not yet be resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations.
The EU’s medicines regulator and the WHO insist there is no evidence of linking the drug to blood clots.
And AstraZeneca said Monday that US tests on more than 30,000 people showed no increased risk of thrombosis.
It said the jab was 79 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in the overall population, 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization and 80 percent effective at preventing the disease in the elderly.
– Putin hits back –
A Russia-made vaccine, Sputnik V, has also met with skepticism in the West, because it was registered last year, before undergoing any large-scale clinical trials.
Some EU officials such as Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton continue snub the jab, saying on Sunday, “we have absolutely no need for Sputnik V”.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin hit back against such comments on Monday.
“We are not imposing anything on anyone,” the 68-year-old said, announcing he planned to get a jab himself this week.
Other countries seem to have no such reservations.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which financially backed the vaccine, said it had signed an agreement with an India-based pharmaceuticals giant for the production of up to 200 million doses of the jab a year.
– Mourning their dead –
Until vaccine programmes are fully up and running, mass gatherings continue to cause governments headaches, with protesters taking to the streets against virus restrictions in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Bulgaria.
In the French Mediterranean port city of Marseille, roughly 6,500 people — mostly young and without masks — took part in a carnival parade, flouting a ban on public gatherings.
While the pandemic continues to rage, some countries are mourning the anniversary of their first deaths from the virus.
Church bells rang out across the Czech Republic Monday to mark one year since the first Covid-19 fatality in the nation, which has the highest per capita death rate in the world, according to data collected by AFP.
And on Tuesday, Britain will mark the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown with a “National Day of Reflection” with parliament observing a minute’s silence in tribute to the more than 125,000 people who have died there.
The EU sanctioned Myanmar’s top junta chief and 10 other officials on Monday, after demonstrators took to the streets for fresh anti-coup protests against the military.
Myanmar’s junta has unleashed deadly violence on protesters who have risen against the military’s ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month.
The crackdown has drawn international condemnation, and in a fresh bid to step up pressure, the European Union placed Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist Monday.
Min Aung Hlaing is “responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar”, the bloc’s official journal said.
The bloc also hit nine other senior military officers and the head of Myanmar’s election commission with sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes.
Germany earlier condemned the level of violence in Myanmar as “completely unacceptable”.
More than 2,600 people have been arrested and 250 killed since the February 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group that has warned fatalities could be even higher.
One of those held, Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC’s Burmese service, was freed on Monday, the broadcaster said in a news story on its website.
The European Commission is proposing to create a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Digital Green Certificate will be proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19.
According to a communique by the Commission on Wednesday, this certificate will be available, free of charge, in digital or paper format.
It will include a QR code to ensure the security and authenticity of the certificate.
The Commission will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, and support Member States in the technical implementation of certificates.
Member States remain responsible to decide which public health restrictions can be waived for travellers but will have to apply for such waivers in the same way to travellers holding a Digital Green Certificate.
Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said: “The Digital Green Certificate offers an EU-wide solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonised digital tool to support free movement in the EU.
“This is a good message in support of recovery. Our key objectives are to offer an easy to use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection. And we continue working towards international convergence with other partners.”
Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “With the Digital Green Certificate, we are taking a European approach to ensure EU citizens and their family members can travel safely and with minimum restrictions this summer. The Digital Green Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way. A common EU-approach will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation. It is also a chance to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values like data protection.”
Key elements of the regulation proposed by the Commission include:
Accessible and secure certificates for all EU citizens:
The Digital Green Certificate will cover three types of certificates –vaccination certificates, test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test), and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
The certificates will be issued in a digital form or on paper. Both will have a QR code that contains necessary key information as well as a digital signature to make sure the certificate is authentic.
The Commission will build a gateway and support Member States to develop software that authorities can use to verify all certificate signatures across the EU. No personal data of the certificate holders passes through the gateway, or is retained by the verifying Member State.
The certificates will be available free of charge and in the official language or languages of the issuing Member State and English. Non-discrimination:
All people – vaccinated and non-vaccinated – should benefit from a Digital Green Certificate when travelling in the EU. To prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission proposes to create not only an interoperable vaccination certificate but also COVID-19 test certificates and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
Same right for travellers with the Digital Green Certificate –where the Member States accept proof of vaccination to waive certain public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they would be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the Digital Green Certificate system.
This obligation would be limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation, but Member States can decide to accept other vaccines in addition.
Notification of other measures – if a Member State continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other Member States and explain the reasons for such measures. Only essential information and secure personal data:
The certificates will include a limited set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier of the certificate. This data can be checked only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates.
The Digital Green Certificate will be valid in all EU Member States and open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway as well as Switzerland.
The Digital Green Certificate should be issued to EU citizens and their family members, regardless of their nationality. It should also be issued to non-EU nationals who reside in the EU and to visitors who have the right to travel to other Member States.
The Digital Green Certificate system is a temporary measure. It will be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the COVID-19 international health emergency.
To be ready before the summer, this proposal needs a swift adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
In parallel, Member States must implement the trust framework and technical standards, agreed in the eHealth network, to ensure timely implementation of the Digital Green Certificate, their interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection. The aim is to have the technical work and the proposal completed in the coming months.
To comply with the measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, travellers in the EU have been asked to provide various documents, such as medical certificates, test results, or declarations. The absence of standardised formats has resulted in travellers experiencing problems when moving within the EU. There have also been reports of fraudulent or forged documents.
In their statement adopted following the informal video conferences on 25 and 26 February 2021, the members of the European Council called for work to continue on a common approach to vaccination certificates. The Commission has been working with the Member States in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth, on preparing the interoperability of vaccination certificates. Guidelines were adopted on 27 January and updated on 12 March, and the trust framework outline was agreed on 12 March 2021.
Today the Commission adopted a legislative proposal establishing a common framework for a Digital Green Certificate. The Commission also adopted a complementary proposal to ensure that the Digital Green Certificate is also issued to non-EU nationals who reside in Member States or Schengen Associated States and to visitors who have the right to travel to other Member States. Separate proposals to cover citizens and non-EU citizens are necessary for legal reasons; there is no difference in the treatment of citizens and eligible non-EU citizens for the purpose of the certificates.
The latest information on coronavirus measures as well as travel restrictions provided to us by Member States are available on the Re-open EU platform.
The European Union unveiled a plan Wednesday to set up a travel certificate to help restore freedom of movement within the bloc for citizens inoculated against the coronavirus.
The certificate will show “whether the person has either been vaccinated, or has a recent negative test, or has recovered from Covid, and thus has antibodies,” EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.
“With this digital certificate, we aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible, and trusted manner.”
The European Union approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on Thursday — the fourth jab to get the green light for the 27-nation bloc.
The decision offers a boost for the EU’s sluggish vaccination programme even if reports say the first J&J shipments may not arrive in European countries until April.
The European Commission formally gave the green light for the jab after the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended approval.
“More safe and effective vaccines are coming to the market,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet.
“We have just authorised the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the EU…. With the number of doses we ordered, we could vaccinate up to 200 million people in the EU” with the J&J jab this year, she said.
The EU has signed a firm order for 200 million and an option for 200 million more.
As well as being the first that requires a single injection as opposed to two, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to store.
The EU has so far approved three vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford. Three other vaccines are under “rolling review” by the Amsterdam-based EMA — Novavax, CureVac and Russia’s Sputnik.
The EMA gave the green light after saying clinical trials involving volunteers in the United States, South Africa and South American countries found the J&J jab was 67 percent effective at preventing people from getting Covid.
Side effects were “usually mild or moderate”, including pain at the injection site, headache, tiredness, muscle pain and nausea, and usually cleared within a couple of days, it said.
– ‘Bumpy’ strategy –
“With this latest positive opinion, authorities across the European Union will have another option to combat the pandemic and protect the lives and health of their citizens,” European Medicines Agency (EMA) chief Emer Cooke said in a statement.
“This is the first vaccine which can be used as a single dose.”
The J&J shot however appears less protective than Pfizer and Moderna’s regimes, which both have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19 from the classic coronavirus strain.
The EU has been struggling with a disappointing vaccination rollout that started in January and faltered because of a shortage of doses produced by the three suppliers so far.
The head of the EU’s vaccine supply task force, Thierry Breton, said on Tuesday the EU’s “bumpy” vaccine strategy should be augmented by the addition of the Johnson & Johnson jab.
Reported production shortfalls in the United States by Johnson & Johnson would not impact the EU because Brussels had made contingency plans for all vaccines, he said.
“Do not believe that because one company has a problem that overall it will jeopardise the whole programme,” said Breton, the EU’s industry commissioner.
Europe’s vaccination strategy faced fresh problems on Wednesday as Denmark, Norway and Iceland said they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after some patients developed blood clots.
Norway and Iceland are not in the EU but are covered by the EMA.
The EMA said the vaccine was still safe for use, pending an investigation.