Europe's medicines regulator has said it expects drug maker AstraZeneca to apply for approval of its Covid-19 vaccine next week.

The European Medicines Agency has said it could possibly reach a conclusion on the vaccine by the end of this month.

The Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and President of the Infectious Disease Society of Ireland has said if it is approved, the AstraZeneca vaccine would allow easier rollout at a community level.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Professor Karina Butler said this was due to it not having to be stored at cold temperatures and the time sensitivity around administering the vaccine. 

The news comes on the same day that the European Commission announced it has agreed a deal to double its order for the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, meaning Ireland is in line to receive an additional 3.3 million doses.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal was extended with a view to the European Union purchasing an extra 300 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

This would double the number of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses purchased by the Commission to 600 million. 

Ms von der Leyen said delivery of the extra doses would start in the second quarter of this year.

The move has been welcomed by the head of Ireland's Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, Professor Brian MacCraith, who said it means Ireland should receive an additional 3.3 million vaccines "on top of what is coming already". 

The EMA has also given the go ahead for an extra sixth dose to be extracted from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vials, increasing the number of available shots.

Prof Butler explained that it had been recommended originally that just five 0.3ml doses could be drawn from the 2.5ml contained in each vial of vaccine. 

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In a statement earlier, the commission said: "European Commission today proposed to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses. 

"This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. 

"The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021." 

The statement added: "The EU has acquired a broad portfolio of vaccines with different technologies. It has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood. 

"In addition to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, was authorised on 6 January 2021. Other vaccines are expected to be approved soon. 

"This vaccine portfolio would enable the EU not only to cover the needs of its whole population, but also to supply vaccines to neighbouring countries." 

Ms von der Leyen also said EU countries are not allowed to negotiate separate vaccine deals with pharmaceutical companies in parallel to the efforts of the European Union as a whole.

"The only framework we are negotiating in is as 27. We do this together and no member state on this legal binding basis is allowed to negotiate in parallel or to have a contract in parallel," she told reporters in Brussels.

"The whole portfolio covers 2.3 billion doses of vaccines sot his is more than enough to vaccinate the whole European population," she said.

Ireland received the first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 26 December and a rollout is under way at hospitals and nursing homes around the country.

The head of the Health Service Executive said yesterday that 15,314 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered from the 81,900 doses that have been delivered.

Chief Executive Paul Reid said the programme is on track to have 35,000 doses delivered by the end of the week.