THE EU launched its co-ordinated vaccine rollout to combat Covid-19 today in what it calls a “touching moment of unity”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen revealed the Pfizer-BioNTech jab has now been delivered to all 27 member states.
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Some countries started administering theirs on Saturday – saying they were not prepared to wait another day to get to work.
The jab programme comes three weeks after the first vaccines were administered to patients in the UK.
The European Medicines Agency approved the jab on December 21 and wants all adults to be vaccinated by the end of next year.
Hospital bosses have even called on doctors and nurses to come out of retirement to help the vaccination effort.
Europe is promoting the vaccine as the continent’s best chance to return to normal life.
German health minister Jens Spahn said: “This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic… the key to getting our lives back.”
EU nations have recorded at least 16 million infections and more than 336,000 deaths – although it is feared the true figures could be higher.
Shots were administered this morning to health care workers, the elderly and some leading politicians to reassure the public they are safe.
In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis received his shot at dawn and asserted: “There’s nothing to worry about.”
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the coordinated EU rollout was a sign of hope for the continent, but that people still cannot let down their guard down.
“We still have difficult months ahead,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day, but we still need to exercise caution … this vaccine is the true path to close out this difficult season.”
Around 9,750 doses have already arrived in Italy and another 470,000 are expected to arrive from next week, the health ministry said.
A 96-year-old living in a care home in central Spain became the first person in the country to be vaccinated this morning – in an event broadcast on national television.
Araceli Rosario Hidalgo Sanchez said she felt “nothing” from the shot with a smile on her face after being injected.
The vaccines started arriving in super-cold containers at EU hospitals on Friday from a factory in Belgium.
France received its first shipment of the vaccine on Saturday and said it would prioritise the elderly.
The EU has seen some of the worlds earliest and hardest-hit virus hot spots, including Italy and Spain.
Others EU countries, like the Czech Republic, were spared the worst early on only to see their health care systems near collapse in the autumn.
President von der Leyen released a video Saturday celebrating the vaccine rollout calling it “a touching moment of unity.”
The campaign should ease frustrations that were building up, especially in Germany, as Britain, Canada and the US kicked off their inoculation programs with the same vaccine weeks earlier.
As it turned out, some EU immunisations began a day early in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia.
The operator of a German nursing home where dozens of people were vaccinated Saturday, including a 101-year-old woman, said every day that we wait is one day too many.
Each country is deciding on its own who will get the first shots.
Spain, France and Germany, among others, are vowing to put the elderly and residents in nursing homes first.
Poland is also prioritizing doctors, nurses and others on the front lines of fighting the virus.
The central European nation was largely spared the surge that hit Western Europe in the spring, but has seen high daily infections and deaths in recent months.
EU leaders are counting on the vaccine rollout to help the bloc project a sense of unity in a complex lifesaving mission after it faced a year of difficulties in negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain.
Among politicians who plan to get virus shots today are Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova and Bulgarian Health Minister Kostadin Angelov.
In Bulgaria, the first person to get the jab will be health minister Kostadin Angelov, who has promised a campaign to promote the vaccine’s benefits.
Both Bulgaria and Poland have a high level of suspicion surrounding the vaccines.
In Croatia, the first recipient will be a nursing home resident in the capital city of Zagreb and Portugal will create separate cold storage units to get the vaccine to the archipelagos of Azores and Madeira.
In Hungary, the first recipient of the vaccine was a doctor at Del-Pest Central Hospital on Saturday, the state news agency says.
Meanwhile, the first cases of a new virus variant that has been spreading rapidly around London and southern England have now been detected in France and Spain.
The new variant, which British authorities said is much more easily transmitted, has caused European countries, the US and China to put new restrictions on travel for people from Britain.
The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the new U.K. variant, but said further studies are needed to be completely certain.