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Donnelly says UK and EU 'only a few weeks apart' on vaccine approval

The vaccine has been authorised by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) for emergency use.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
Image: RollingNews.ie

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said that the UK and the EU are only a “few weeks apart” in approving vaccines.

The UK today announced that it has formally approved a vaccine against Covid-19 developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US giant Pfizer, becoming the first country to do so. 

The vaccine has been authorised by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) for emergency use.

The Guardian reports that the UK has bought 40 million doses of the vaccine, with a statement form the company saying that the first doses will arrive in the UK in coming days.

“The government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use,” the UK’s department of health said in a statement.

“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week,” the statement said, with priority groups including care home residents, health and care staff.

On RTÉ’s News At One today, Donnelly explained that the UK simply has a different process to the EU.

As it stands, the plan for Ireland and EU is that the European Medicines Agency will assess both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine on 29 December at the latest, he said. 

“There’s not that much difference, there’s a few weeks apart,” said Donnelly. “But it’s basically because we’re working with the European Medicines Agency, the UK post-Brexit obviously has their own process.”

Meanwhile, nine ultra-low temperature Covid-19 vaccine freezer trucks have arrived into the country to aid with the roll out of a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 

The vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees, and specialised freezers are needed to store the vaccine.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions today, the Taoiseach said the work of the government’s vaccine task force is “proceeding at pace”. 

Planning is underway as how to roll out the vaccine, with the infrastructure for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “already coming into play”, said Micheál Martin.

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The task force is charged with rolling out a national immunisation programme, said Martin, who added that he would prefer to let them “get on with their work” before presenting their plan to him on 11 December. 

Martin said the HSE will be a key driver in the implementation of the plan, while the Department of Health and the Minister for Health will oversee operations.

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