Hungary gives 1st vaccine shots a day before EU's rollout
WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Hungarian doctors and healthcare workers were vaccinated on Saturday with one of the first shipments of Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to the continent, furthering the European Union's plans for a coordinated rollout of the first shots on Jan. Block turned countries upside down on Sunday.
The first shipments of the vaccine arrived in super-cold containers in hospitals across the EU late Friday and early Saturday after being shipped from a production center in Belgium before Christmas.
It was not immediately clear why the Hungarian authorities started their vaccinations a day earlier. The Slovak authorities also announced that they intend to start administering their first doses on Saturday evening.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, posted a video introducing the vaccine and called it “a touching moment of unity”.
“Today we turn the page in a difficult year. The COVID-19 vaccine was delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will start tomorrow across the EU, "she said.
The rollout is a moment of hope for a region that includes some of the world's earliest and worst-hit virus hotspots - Italy and Spain - and others like the Czech Republic that were spared early just to keep their health systems close see break point in autumn.
In total, the 27 EU countries have recorded at least 16 million coronavirus infections and more than 336,000 deaths. The launch of the vaccine will help the bloc develop a sense of unity in a complex life-saving mission after struggling for a year to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK. It's also a sigh of relief for EU politicians who were frustrated after the UK, Canada and the United States started their vaccination programs earlier this month.
"Here's the good news for Christmas," said Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn at a press conference on Saturday. "This vaccine is critical to ending this pandemic."
"It's the key to getting our lives back," said Spahn.
However, the first deliveries are limited to just under 10,000 cans in most countries. The mass vaccination programs are not expected to start until January. Each country decides for itself who gets the first shots - but everyone puts the weakest first.
In Hungary, the first shipment of 9,750 doses - enough to vaccinate 4,875 people since two doses per person are required - arrived early Saturday by truck and was taken to the South Pest Central Hospital in Budapest. The government said four more hospitals, two in Budapest and two more in the eastern cities of Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, would also receive vaccines from the first shipment.
French authorities said they would prioritize the elderly based on the deadly effects the virus had on the elderly in previous virus floods in France. The French medical security agency will monitor possible problems.
Germany, where the pandemic has cost more than 30,000 lives, will start with people over 80 and people caring for vulnerable groups.
Spanish authorities said the first batch of the vaccine to reach the country had arrived in downtown Guadalajara - where the first shots will be administered on Sunday morning in a nursing home.
In Italy, which has the worst virus deaths in Europe at over 71,000 people, a nurse in Rome at Spallanzani Hospital, the capital's main infectious disease facility, will be the first in the country to receive the vaccine, followed by other health workers.
In Poland, the first two people to be vaccinated on Sunday were a nurse and a doctor at the Ministry of Interior Hospital in Warsaw, the main coronavirus hospital in the capital, followed by medical workers in dozens of other hospitals.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called it the patriotic duty of Poles to get vaccinated - a message addressed to a society in which there is a high level of vaccine reluctance due to a general distrust of the authorities.
In Bulgaria, where vaccine reluctance is also high, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov will be the first to receive the shot, who has promised an aggressive campaign to promote the benefits of the shot.
In Croatia, where the first batch of 9,750 vaccines arrived early Saturday, a nursing home in the capital Zagreb will be the first to receive the vaccine on Sunday morning, according to HRT TV. Authorities also planned to involve celebrities and other public figures in a vaccination campaign.
"We have been waiting for this for a year now," said Romanian Prime Minister Florin Catu on Saturday after the first batch of the vaccine arrived at a military-run warehouse there.
Vaccinations begin when the first cases of a new variant of the virus that has spread across the UK are now discovered in France and Spain. The new variant, which the UK authorities said was much easier to transfer, has resulted in European countries, the United States and China imposing new travel restrictions on people from the UK.
A Frenchman living in England arrived in France on December 19 and tested positive for the new variant on Friday, the French health department said. He has no symptoms and is isolating himself in his home in downtown Tours.
Meanwhile, health officials in the Madrid area said they had confirmed the British variant in four people, all of whom are in good health. Regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero said the new tribe arrived when an infected person flew into Madrid airport.
The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is confident that its coronavirus vaccine will work against the new British variant. However, more study is needed to be completely sure.
Associated press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels, David McHugh in Frankfurt, Angela Charlton in Paris, Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, Frances D'Emilio in Rome, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia and Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria contributed to this on this report.
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