Europe begins vaccine rollout
Most vulnerable get jab as new strain spreads fears
Published: Dec 27, 2020 06:23 PM

Medical staff administer a vaccine against COVID-19 to colleagues on Sunday in a faculty hospital in Nitra, Slovakia. The European Union began a vaccine rollout, even as countries in the bloc were forced back into lockdown by a new strain of the virus, believed to be more infectious, that continues to spread from Britain. Photo: AFP

EU countries on Sunday embarked on a vaccination campaign hailed as the "key" to defeating COVID-19, as the growing spread of a new coronavirus variant intensified fears the pandemic could wreak further devastation.

The jab is a glimmer of hope for a continent still battling the pandemic in earnest, with infection rates again on the rise, lockdowns imposed and Christmas and New Year plans left in tatters for many.

The numbers vaccinated in the initial days with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab are largely symbolic and it will be months before enough are protected to envisage a return to normal from the pandemic that has killed 1.76 million people worldwide.

In a sign of impatience, some EU countries began vaccinating on ­Saturday, a day before the official start, with a 101-year-old woman in a care home ­becoming the first person in Germany to be inoculated and Hungary and ­

Slovakia also handing out their first shots.

EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a video on her ­Twitter account that the campaign start was a "touching moment of unity and a ­European success story" and said the EU had "secured enough doses for our whole population of 450 million people."

In Italy, the EU country worst hit by the pandemic with 71,000 dead, 29-year-old nurse Claudia Alivernini was the first to receive the vaccination Sunday morning.

France is due to begin its campaign in two care homes for the elderly in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, a low-income area hard hit by COVID-19, and also in similar centers in the eastern city of Dijon.

Focusing its strategy on protecting the elderly and thus taking pressure off the hospital system, the government wants 1 million of the most vulnerable to be vaccinated by the end of February and 15 million people by the summer.

China, Russia, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Serbia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia have also begun their vaccination campaigns.

Britain, which last week finalized the deal on leaving the EU, began its vaccination campaign amid much fanfare on December 8, three weeks ahead of the bloc.

But it was also in Britain that a new strain of the virus emerged and has ­already reached several other European countries as well as Japan and Canada.

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