Doctors, nurses and the elderly have rolled up their sleeves across the European Union on Sunday to receive the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine in a symbolic tone of unity and moment of hope for a continent facing the worst healthcare crisis in a century .
Weeks after the US, Canada and Britain started vaccinating with the same vaccine, the 27-nation bloc offered a coordinated implementation aimed at projecting a unified message that the shot was safe and the best chance of getting out of Europe to quell the pandemic.
For health workers who fought the virus with only masks and shields to protect themselves, the vaccines were an emotional relief as the virus continued to kill. But it was also a public opportunity for them to urge the 450 million people in Europe to get the shots amid continued vaccination and virus skepticism.
“Today I am here as a citizen, but especially as a nurse, to represent my category and all health professionals who prefer to believe in science,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, the first person to be vaccinated in the Spallanzani. infectious hospital in Rome.
The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, calls the vaccine, which was developed in record time, a ‘game changer’.
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“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but that it is the beginning of victory,” he said.
The Italian virus tsar Domenico Arcuri said it was important that the first doses of Italy were administered in Spallanzani, where a Chinese couple who visited Wuhan tested positive in January and became the first confirmed cases of Italy.
Northern Lombardy became the center of the outbreak in Europe within a few weeks and a warning story of what happens when even affluent regions are unprepared for a pandemic. Lombardy is still responsible for about a third of the deaths in Italy, with the deadliest virus deaths on the continent at nearly 72,000.
“Today is a beautiful, symbolic day: all the citizens of Europe are starting to get their vaccinations together, the first ray of light after a long night,” Arcuri told reporters.
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But he warns: ‘We must all remain careful, cautious and responsible. We still have a long way to go, but in the end we see some light. ‘
The vaccine, developed by German BioNTech and US drugmaker Pfizer, arrived at EU hospitals in super-cold containers from a factory in Belgium on Friday. Each country received only a fraction of the required doses – less than 10,000 in the first groups for some countries – with the larger rollout expected in January when more vaccines become available. All who get shots on Sunday must return for a second dose within three weeks.
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Union’s Executive Commission, said that with the additional vaccines in development, the EU would have more shots than needed this year, and could share its surplus with the Western Balkans and Africa.
“Europe is well positioned,” she insisted.
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At the Los Olmos nursing home in the Spanish city of Guadalajara, northeast of Madrid, 96-year-old resident Araceli Hidalgo and a caregiver were the first Spaniards to receive the vaccine.
“Let’s see if we can all act and make this virus go away,” Hidalgo said.
The Los Olmos home suffered two confirmed COVID-19 deaths and another 11 deaths among residents with symptoms that were never tested.
The Czech Republic was spared the worst of the pandemic in the spring, just as its health care system nearly collapsed in the fall. In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis received his shot at dawn, claiming: “There is nothing to worry about.” Next to him sits the veteran of World War II, Emilie Repikova, who also received a shot.
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A total of 27 EU countries have reported at least 16 million coronavirus infections and more than 336,000 deaths – a large number that experts say still underestimate the real toll of the pandemic due to failures and limited testing.
The vaccination campaign would alleviate the frustrations that were building up, especially in Germany, because Britain, Canada and the United States had started their vaccination programs with the same vaccination weeks before.
As it turns out, some EU vaccinations started a day early in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. The operator of a German nursing home where dozens were vaccinated on Saturday, including a 101-year-old woman, said “every day we wait is one day too many.”
In France, where many people question the safety of vaccines, the French government was cautious in its messages and wanted to ensure that it was not seen as forcing vaccinations on the public. France’s first vaccination at a nursing home in a poor area outside Paris was not broadcast on live television on Sunday, as it was elsewhere in Europe and no government ministers attended.
“We do not have to convince her. She said ‘yes, I am ready for anything to avoid this disease’,” said Dr. Samir Tine, head of geriatric services at the Sevran nursing home, said. 78-year-old Mauricette.
“This is an important day,” Tine said. “We are very eager to have a new weapon at our disposal and we are very eager to rediscover our normal lives.”
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Among the politicians who received shots on Sunday to promote wider acceptance of vaccinations was Bulgarian Health Minister Kostadin Angelov. “I can’t wait to see my 70-year-old father without fear of infecting him,” Angelov said.
After the shooting, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared “a great day for science and the European Union” on Sunday.
“We hope that even those of our fellow citizens who are suspicious of vaccination will eventually be convinced that this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Meanwhile, a new virus variant spreading rapidly in London and the south of England has now been detected in France, Italy, Spain, Canada and Japan. The new variant, which according to the British authorities is much easier to transfer, has encouraged many countries to limit travel from Britain.
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Japan has announced that it will temporarily ban all foreign nationals until January 31 as a precaution against the new variant of the United Kingdom.
German BioNTech said it was confident the vaccine would work against the new British variant, but added further studies were needed.
The European Medicines Agency on January 6 will consider approving another vaccine made by Moderna, which is already in use in the United States.
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Dr Annalisa Malara, who on February 20 diagnosed the first domestic case in Italy confirming that the outbreak of Europe was underway, was on hand at her hospital in Codogno to encourage all Italians to take the chance.
“Today we are closing the circle a bit that opened on February 20,” she said.