Europe begins vaccine rollout as new virus strain spreads fears

WION Web Team
London, London, UK (Great Britain) Published: Dec 27, 2020, 08:52 AM(IST)

Europe surpasses 75 million Covid cases Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

A swath of EU nations begin vaccinating their most vulnerable groups Sunday as a reputedly more contagious coronavirus variant spread internationally.

Europe has launched a cross-border vaccination programme of unprecedented scale as part of efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic.

A swath of EU nations begin vaccinating their most vulnerable groups Sunday as a reputedly more contagious coronavirus variant spread internationally.

First doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in EU countries including hard-hit Italy, Spain and France on Saturday, ready for distribution to retirement homes and care staff.

The approval and roll-out of vaccines has boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite from the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.7 million people since emerging in China late last year.

While Europe has some of the best-resourced healthcare systems in the world, the sheer scale of the effort means that some countries are calling on retired medics to help out while others have loosened rules for who is allowed to give the injections.

With surveys pointing to high levels of hesitancy towards the vaccine in countries from France to Poland, leaders of the 27-country European Union are promoting it as the best chance of getting back to something like normal life next year.

"We are starting to turn the page on a difficult year," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Brussels-based European Commission coordinating the programme, said in a tweet.
"Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic."

In a video message ahead of the first International Day of Epidemic Preparedness on Sunday, World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was time to learn the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic.

"History tells us that this will not be the last pandemic, and epidemics are a fact of life," said Tedros.

"Any efforts to improve human health are doomed unless they address the critical interface between humans and animals, and the existential threat of climate change that's making our earth less habitable," he added.

Vaccinations in all 27 European Union countries are set to begin from Sunday, after regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 21.

But some countries began on Saturday: a 101-year-old woman in a care home became the first person in Germany to be inoculated, and the first jabs were also handed out in Hungary and Slovakia.

The three EU countries joined China, Russia and Britain, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Serbia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, which have also begun their vaccination campaigns.

Jitters also remained over a new strain that has emerged in Britain and reached several other European countries such as France and Sweden, as well as Japan.

Four cases were confirmed in Madrid on Saturday, though the patients were not seriously ill, according to the Madrid regional government's deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero, who said "there is no need for alarm."

The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK.

After European governments were criticised for failing to work together to counter the spread of the virus in early 2020, the goal this time is to ensure that there is equal access to the vaccines across the entire region.

But even then, Hungary on Saturday jumped the gun on the official roll-out by starting to administer shots of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to frontline workers at hospitals in the capital Budapest.

In Italy, temporary solar-powered healthcare pavilions will spring up in town squares around the country, designed to look like five-petalled primrose flowers, a symbol of spring.

In Spain, doses are being delivered by air to its island territories and the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Portugal is establishing separate cold storage units for its Atlantic archipelagos of Azores and Madeira.

(with inputs from agencies)

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