AMSTERDAM, Dec. 22 (CNA) - The European Union geared up to start mass vaccinations against COVID-19 just after Christmas after the shot developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech cleared regulatory hurdles on Monday (Dec 21).

European Union countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from Dec 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month.

Having secured a green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Commission gave final approval on Monday evening to the EU's first COVID-19 vaccine.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said doses would be available for all EU countries, at the same time and on the same conditions.

"Today we add an important chapter to a European success story. We approved the first safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19. More vaccines will come soon," she said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they are ready to immediately ship initial doses of the vaccine, branded in the EU as Comirnaty, to the 27 EU member states.

Vaccine doses for Europe will be produced in BioNTech's manufacturing sites in Germany, and Pfizer's manufacturing site in Puurs, Belgium, the companies said.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza hailed the approval as "the news we have been waiting for". "(It) opened up a new phase and gives us more strength and confidence" in tackling a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Europeans, he said.

Preparations for the vaccine roll-out come as the identification of a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus in Britain caused chaos across the region, with countries shutting off travel ties with the United Kingdom and disrupting trade ahead of the Christmas holiday.

EMA officials said it was highly likely the vaccine would work against the new variant of the coronavirus.

EMA executive director Emer Cooke said it would take a long time to inoculate the 450 million people of the 27 EU countries.

"Vaccines alone will not be the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normal lives, but the authorisation of this first vaccine is definitely a major step in the right direction and an indication that 2021 can be brighter than 2020," she told a news briefing.