The European Union authorised the coronavirus vaccine developed by US drug company Moderna on Wednesday, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said, hours after medical regulators gave it the green light.

The Moderna vaccine is the second to be approved by the European Medicines Agency and the commission has organised a joint purchasing programme to provide doses for member states.

“We are providing more COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans. With the Moderna vaccine, the second one now authorised in the EU, we will have a further 160 million doses. And more vaccines will come," von der Leyen said.

"Europe has secured up to two billion doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines. We'll have more than enough safe and effective vaccines for protecting all Europeans."

Vaccination has begun in EU member states using the version developed by US giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. After Moderna there are four more candidates for approval. 

The EU's total population is 450 million. The approved vaccines require two doses per person to reach their full effect.

Details of the contracts signed by Brussels to secure stocks of the various vaccines are being kept confidential, but the Moderna vaccine is reportedly the most expensive one secured.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that approval of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines "will ensure that 460 million doses will be rolled out with increasing speed in the EU, and more will come.

"Member States have to ensure that the pace of vaccinations follows suit. Our efforts will not stop until vaccines are available for everyone in the EU," she added.

There has been criticism in some quarters, notably the German media, that Brussels' coordinated vaccine strategy has not moved quickly enough, with the United States, Britain and Israel quicker off the mark.  

But Brussels insists it has taken the safest route in subjecting the candidate vaccines to full EMA testing protocols and coordinating closely with member states to decide how many doses to buy and distribute. 

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