Vaccination begins for 450 million in Europe as mutated coronavirus strain spreads
Mass vaccination programs were launched across Europe on Sunday after several countries reported cases of a contagious variant of the coronavirus.
On what some referred to as "V-Day," Germany, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain began vaccinating, starting with health workers and those most at risk of the disease.
The coordinated vaccination campaign of unprecedented proportions in the European Union, home to nearly 450 million people, is a crucial step in containing the global pandemic.
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In Italy, the first vaccine doses developed by the American drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech were given to five health workers at the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani, which has been at the forefront of the pandemic since the fight against Covid-19 began.
"Today is finally a good day," said the country's virus tsar, Domenico Arcuri, at a press conference. "We see the light at the end of the tunnel."
However, he warned that people "should continue to be prudent, careful and responsible" as Italy, which has the highest death toll in Europe with 72,000 deaths, has a long way to go.
A total of 9,750 doses of the vaccine, which cleared regulatory hurdles in Europe earlier this week, have so far arrived in the country to be distributed across the 20 regions, the country's health ministry said.
Overall, the 27 states of the European Union have recorded almost 15 million coronavirus infections and more than 353,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 1.7 million people have died worldwide.
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Every E.U. The country will decide for itself who gets the first shots, with most vowing to put the elderly and residents in nursing homes first.
France also began administering the vaccine on Sunday. The country's health ministry announced that it has ordered nearly 68 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in two doses from the European Union for delivery by July.
One day before the official start of the vaccination campaign in Germany, a small number of people were vaccinated on Saturday in a nursing home in a nursing home in the city of Halberstadt.
Edith Kwoizalla, aged 101, received the first dose.
The federal government plans to distribute more than 1.3 million vaccine doses to the local health authorities by the end of this year, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted earlier this week.
Hungary and Slovakia started vaccinating people on Saturday, a day before the general European rollout, while Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the Czech Republic became the first in the country to receive the vaccine on Sunday.
Image: Czech Republic begins introducing Covid-19 vaccine (Gabriel Kuchta / Getty Images)
The first cases of a new variant of the virus, which UK authorities said could be 70 percent more transmissible after being discovered in the UK, were spotted in France, Ireland and Sweden over the weekend.
Fears about the new variety caused China's aviation authority to suspend flights to and from the UK on Sunday until at least January 10th. More than 40 countries including France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Japan have also introduced travel restrictions for the UK.
BioNTech is confident that its coronavirus vaccine will work against the new British variant, but added that more studies are needed to be absolutely safe.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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