The European Commission president has said the European Medicines Agency could begin authorising the marketing of two leading coronavirus vaccines before the end of the year.

Speaking last night following a video conference of EU leaders, Ursula von der Leyen said that if ongoing testing is successful, both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines could be authorised in the second half of December.

She urged member states to co-ordinate plans on which population groups would be prioritised to receive the vaccines when they become available.

There have been two big vaccine breakthroughs so far: one from Pfizer/BioNTech and another from Moderna.

They are both very different vaccines and have different strengths and drawbacks, but before they are rolled out they need approval from both the US and EU regulatory authorities.

The European Commission has already signed contracts with five vaccine manufacturers: BioNTech, CureVac, AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, and Sanofi. They are in negotiation with Moderna and Novavax.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which regulates all medicines sold in the EU, is synchronising its assessment of the BioNTech and Moderna vaccines with the US Food and Drug Administration.

She said that if all goes according to plan, the EMA could issue what is called conditional marketing authorisation for BioNTech or Moderna in the second half of December.

However, different manufacturers will not be able to make the same amounts of vaccines, and the delivery systems for some are more complex than for others.

All member states have pledged to buy vaccines from those companies within the portfolio of contracts agreed by the commission, and member states have been urged to coordinate who is prioritised.

Typically, first in line would be healthcare workers, then essential workers, the elderly, and people with other underlying conditions. But ultimately, member states will decide.