Sat | Feb 4, 2023

Germany, Hungary give first vaccine shots ahead of EU rollout

Published:Saturday | December 26, 2020 | 1:27 PMAssociated Press
Doctor Bernhard Ellendt (right), injects the COVID-19 vaccine to nursing home resident Edith Kwoizalla, 101 years old, in Halberstadt, Germany, earlier today. The first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived across the European Union, as authorities prepared to begin administering the first shots to the most vulnerable people in a coordinated effort on Sunday. The vaccines developed by BioNTech and Pfizer arrived by truck in warehouses across the continent on Friday and early Saturday, after being sent from a manufacturing centre in Belgium before Christmas (photo courtesy of AP).

Germany and Hungary began administering their first COVID-19 vaccine shots today, hours after receiving their first shipments. The move has upset the European Union’s plans for a coordinated roll out on tomorrow across the bloc’s 27 nations.

“Every day that we wait is one day too many,” said Tobias Krueger, the operator of a nursing home in Halberstadt, in the northeast German region of Saxony-Anhalt.

The first person at the home to be immunised with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 101-year-old Edith Kwoizalla, the dpa news agency reported.

Krueger said 40 of the home’s 59 residents wanted the immunisation shot along with 10 of around 40 workers. He was among those immunised, but added: “I also understand the concerns.”

In Hungary, health care workers were vaccinated at the Southern Pest Central Hospital in Budapest, while authorities in Slovakia also planned to begin administering their first doses on Saturday evening.

The first shipments of the vaccine arrived at hospitals across the EU in super-cold containers late Friday and early today, after being sent from a manufacturing centre in Belgium before Christmas.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen released a video celebrating the vaccine roll out, calling it “a touching moment of unity.”

“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The COVID-19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin tomorrow across the EU,” she said.

The roll out marks a moment of hope for a region that includes some of the world’s earliest and worst-hit hot spots — Italy and Spain — and others, such as the Czech Republic, which were spared early on, only to see their health care systems nearing breaking point in the fall.

Altogether, the EU’s 27 nations have recorded at least 16 million COVID-19 infections and more than 336,000 deaths — numbers that experts agree understate the true toll of the pandemic due to missed cases and limited testing.

Vaccine roll out helps perception of unity

Still, the vaccine roll out helps 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. It also brings a sigh of relief for EU politicians who were frustrated after Britain, Canada and the United States began their vaccination programmes with the same German-developed shot earlier this month.

“It’s here, the good news at Christmas,” German Health Minister, Jens Spahn told a news conference Saturday. “This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic ... it is the key to getting our lives back.”

The first shipments were limited to just under 10,000 doses in most countries, with the mass vaccination programs expected to begin only in January. Each country is deciding on its own who will get the first shots, but they are all putting the most vulnerable first.

In Hungary, the first shipment of 9,750 doses — enough to vaccinate 4,875 people, since two doses are needed per person — arrived by truck early today and were taken to the South Pest Central Hospital in Budapest. The government said four other hospitals, two in Budapest and two others in the eastern cities of Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, would also receive vaccines from the initial shipment.

French authorities said they will prioritise the elderly, based on the virus’ deadly impact on older people in previous virus surges. The French medical safety agency will monitor the vaccine roll out for any potential problems.

Germany, where the pandemic has cost more than 30,000 lives, was beginning with those over 80 and people who take care of vulnerable groups.

Spanish authorities said the first batch of the vaccine arrived in the central city of Guadalajara, where the first shots will be administered tomorrow morning at a nursing home.

In Italy, which has Europe’s worst virus toll, with more than 71,000 dead, a nurse in Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, the main infectious diseases facility in the capital, will be the first in the country to receive the vaccine, followed by other health personnel.

In Poland, the first two people to be vaccinated tomorrow will be a nurse and a doctor at the Interior Ministry hospital in Warsaw, followed by medical personnel in dozens of other hospitals. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called it the patriotic duty of Poles to get vaccinated — a message directed at a society where there’s a high degree of vaccine hesitancy born from a general distrust of authorities.

In Bulgaria, where fears about vaccines also run high, the first person to get the shot will be Health Minister Kostadin Angelov, who has promised an aggressive campaign to promote the benefits of the shots.

In Croatia, where the first batch of 9,750 vaccines arrived early today, a nursing home resident in Zagreb, the capital, will be the first to receive the vaccine on Sunday morning, according to state HRT TV. Authorities also planned to involve celebrities and other public figures in a pro-vaccination campaign.

“We have been waiting for this for a year now,” Romanian Prime Minister Florin Catu said on Saturday after the first batch of the vaccine arrived at a military-run storage facility.

The vaccinations begin as the first cases of a new virus variant that has been spreading in the UK 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 United States and China to put new restrictions on travel for people from Britain.

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