Sat | Feb 4, 2023

EU starts COVID-19 vaccine campaign

Published:Sunday | December 27, 2020 | 12:56 PMAssociated Press
A resident of a nursing home reacts as she gets an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine in Cologne, Germany today. The first shipments of vaccines, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, have arrived across the European Union, authorities started to vaccinate the most vulnerable people in a coordinated effort on Sunday (AP photo).

Doctors, nurses and the elderly rolled up their sleeves across the European Union to receive the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine today. The event was a symbolic show of unity and moment of hope for a continent confronting its worst health care crisis in a century.

Weeks after the US, Canada and Britain began inoculations with the same vaccine, the 27-nation bloc staged a coordinated roll out aimed at projecting a unified message that the shot was safe and Europe’s best chance to emerge from the pandemic.

For health care workers who have been battling the virus with only masks and shields to protect themselves, the vaccines represented an emotional relief as the virus continues to kill. But it was also a public chance for them to urge Europe’s 450 million people to get the shots amid continued vaccine and virus scepticism.

“Today I’m here as a citizen, but most of all as a nurse, to represent my category and all the health workers who choose to believe in science,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, the first person to be inoculated at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital in Rome.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called the vaccine, which was developed in record time, a “game-changer.”

“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the beginning of the victory,” he said.

Significant day for Italy

Italian virus czar Domenico Arcuri said it was significant that Italy’s first doses were administered at Spallanzani, where a Chinese couple visiting from Wuhan tested positive in January and became Italy’s first confirmed cases.

Within weeks, northern Lombardy became the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe and a cautionary tale of what happens when even wealthy regions find themselves unprepared for a pandemic. Lombardy still accounts for around a third of the dead in Italy, which has the continent’s worst confirmed virus death toll at nearly 72,000.

“Today is a beautiful, symbolic day: All the citizens of Europe together are starting to get their vaccinations, the first ray of light after a long night,” Arcuri told reporters.

But he cautioned: “We all have to continue to be prudent, cautious and responsible. We still have a long road ahead, but finally we see a bit of light.”

The vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and American drug maker, Pfizer, started arriving in super-cold containers at EU hospitals on Friday from a factory in Belgium. Each country was only getting a fraction of the doses needed — fewer than 10,000 in the first batches for some countries — with the bigger roll out expected in January when more vaccines become available. All those getting shots Sunday have to come back for a second dose in three weeks.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Union’s Executive Commission, said with additional vaccines in development, the EU will have more shots than necessary this year and could share its surplus with the western Balkans and Africa.

“Europe is well positioned,” she insisted.

Vaccine welcomed in Spain, Czech Republic

In 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 behave 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 who were never tested.

The Czech Republic was spared the worst of the pandemic in the spring only to see its health care system near collapse in the fall. In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis received his shot at dawn Sunday and asserted: “There’s nothing to worry about.” Sitting next to him was World War II veteran, Emilie Repikova, who also received a shot.

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

The vaccination campaign should ease frustrations that were building up, especially in Germany, as Britain, Canada and the US kicked off their inoculation programmes with the same vaccine weeks earlier.

Some EU immunisations began a day early in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia.

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