The EU is responsible for ensuring that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines reach the public in the EU/EEA. The European Commission authorises COVID-19 vaccines, after evaluation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and consultation with the EU Member States. The first vaccines were given at the end of 2020.
How COVID-19 vaccines work
COVID-19 vaccines prevent COVID-19 by triggering an immune response.
Most COVID-19 vaccines trigger these immune responses to a tiny fragment of SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.
If a person who has received a COVID-19 vaccine is infected by the virus later on, the immune system recognises the virus.
Because it is already prepared to attack the virus, that person’s immune system is able to protect them from COVID-19 disease.
See more information on How vaccines work.
Development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines
COVID-19 vaccines are developed following the same legal requirements for quality, safety and efficacy as for all other vaccines.
Like all vaccines, the effects of COVID-19 vaccines are tested first in the laboratory, including in animals, and then in human volunteers.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) evaluates COVID-19 vaccines against the same high standards as for all other vaccines before they can be released for use. Read more on the Approval of vaccines in the European Union.
What is different for COVID-19 vaccines is that development and approval are happening much faster, in response to the public-health emergency caused by the virus.
EMA evaluates high-quality applications from companies developing COVID-19 vaccines in the shortest time possible, while ensuring its decisions remain robust. It does this by:
- providing guidance to help developers of COVID-19 vaccines prepare to apply for approval;
- using rapid review procedures;
- assessing key data on COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they become available.
Monitoring COVID-19 vaccine safety
The EU continually monitors the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
EMA monitors side effects to these vaccines, as it does for all vaccines.
In parallel, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) intensively monitors the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
This enables the EU to identify and evaluate new information that arises on the benefits and safety of COVID-19 vaccines promptly. This will make sure that any possible risks are detected and managed as quickly as possible: see Monitoring vaccine safety and reporting side effects.
- European Commission: Coronavirus response
- European Commission: EU strategy for COVID-19 vaccines
- European Commission: Preparedness for COVID-19 vaccination strategies and vaccine deployment
- European Commission: How are vaccines developed, authorised and put on the market?
- ECDC: Questions and answers on COVID-19 vaccines in the EU
- ECDC: Vaccine Tracker
- EMA: Treatments and vaccines for COVID-19
- EMA: COVID-19 vaccines: key facts
- EMA: COVID-19 vaccines: development, evaluation, approval and monitoring
Vaccines authorised for use in the European Union
Comirnaty contains a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA) with instructions for producing a protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen
COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen is made up of another virus (of the adenovirus family) that has been modified to contain the gene for making a protein found on SARS-CoV-2.
Nuvaxovid contains a version of a protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 (the spike protein), which has been produced in the laboratory.
Spikevax contains a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA) with instructions for producing a protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Spikevax does not contain the virus itself and cannot cause COVID-19.
COVID-19 Vaccine Vaxzevria is made up of another virus (of the adenovirus family) that has been modified to contain the gene for making a protein from SARS-CoV-2.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker provides an overview of the progress in the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines in adults (aged 18 years and above) across EU/EEA Member States. As an interactive dashboard, the Vaccine Tracker presents data on the number of vaccine doses distributed by manufacturers to each Member State for the different vaccines authorised for use in the EU and the number of first, second or unspecified doses administered to adult individuals.Read more
Infographic: How protein-based vaccines work against COVID-19
This infographic explains how protein-based vaccines work against COVID-19.
Infographic - Viral vector vaccines against COVID-19: how they work
This infographic provides information on how viral vector vaccines work.
Infographic: How mRNA vaccines protect you against COVID-19
This infographic provides information on how mRNA vaccines work.
Infographic - COVID-19: EU coordination for safe and effective vaccination
How are COVID-19 vaccines being fast-tracked for approval?