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UPDATE 1-First COVID vaccinations in EU likely this year, EU Commission head says

(Adds background)

BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Reuters) - European Union countries could begin coronavirus inoculations as soon as this year, the head of the European Commission said on Tuesday.

This followed the EU drug regulator’s decision to bring forward its possible approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to Dec. 21.

“Likely that the first Europeans will be vaccinated before end 2020,” Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter after a decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to hold an extraordinary meeting on the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 21, before a previously planned meeting on Dec. 29.

After possible approval by the EU regulator, the European Commission is expected to formally approve the Pfizer vaccine within three days, after consultations with the 27 EU governments.

Commission decisions on approvals of medicines usually follow the EMA’s recommendations. The approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Commission is considered a formality if the EMA issues a positive recommendation.

EU countries can begin vaccinations immediately after formal approval by the EU Commission. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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