Frankfurt, Germany (AFP) – Germany and Hungary began administering the first vaccines of the Coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, just hours after receiving their first shipments, upsetting the European Union’s plans for its coordinated deployment on Sunday across the 27-nation bloc.
“Every day we wait for it is a very, very much day,” said Tobias Kruger, director of the nursing home where vaccinations began on Saturday in Halberstadt, in the northeastern region of Saxony-Anhalt.
And the German news agency (dpa) reported that the first person in the house to be immunized with the Pfizer-Bio-Tech vaccine was Edith Quesala 101 years old.
Kruger said 40 of the 59 residents of the house wanted to be vaccinated with 10 of the roughly 40 workers. He was among those vaccinated, but added: “I understand the concerns, too.”
In Hungary, healthcare workers have been vaccinated at Southern Pest Central Hospital in Budapest, while authorities in Slovakia are also planning to start administering their first doses on Saturday evening.
The first shipments of the vaccine arrived at hospitals across the European Union in extremely cold containers late Friday and early Saturday after being dispatched from a manufacturing center in Belgium before Christmas.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen released a video to celebrate the launch of the vaccine, describing it as “a moving moment of unity”.
“Today, we are starting to turn the page in a difficult year. The vaccine for COVID-19 has been delivered to all European Union countries. And she said that vaccination will start tomorrow across the European Union.”
The launch marks a moment of hope for a region that includes some of the world’s oldest and most dangerous areas affected by the virus – Italy and Spain – and others like the Czech Republic, which were averted early only to see health care systems near their breaking point in the fall.
In all, the 27 European Union countries have recorded at least 16 million cases of coronavirus and more than 336,000 deaths – numbers that experts agree underestimate the true number of the epidemic due to missing cases and limited testing.
However, the launch of the vaccine helps the bloc project feel lonely in a complex mission to save lives after it faced a year of difficulties negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal. It also brings a sigh of relief for European Union politicians who were frustrated after Britain, Canada and the United States began their vaccination programs with the same shot that Germany developed earlier this month.
“It’s here, the good news for Christmas,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference on Saturday. “This vaccine is the critical key to ending this epidemic … It is the key to getting our lives back.”
The first shipments were limited to fewer than 10,000 doses in most countries, and comprehensive vaccination programs are expected to start only in January. Each country decides on their own who gets the first shots – but they all put the most vulnerable people first.
In Hungary, the first shipment of 9,750 doses – sufficient to vaccinate 4,875 people, given that two doses are needed per person – arrived by truck early Saturday and taken to 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 Nyiregyhaza, will receive the vaccines from the initial shipment.
The French authorities said they would prioritize the elderly, based on the deadly impact of the virus on the elderly in previous virus flare-ups. The French Medical Safety Agency will monitor the launch of the vaccine for any potential problems.
Germany, where the epidemic has claimed more than 30,000 lives, begins with those over 80 and the people who care for vulnerable groups.
The Spanish authorities said that the first batch of the vaccine arrived in the central city of Guadalajara, where the first vaccinations will be given on Sunday morning in a nursing home.
In Italy, which has recorded the worst virus toll in Europe with more than 71,000 deaths, a nurse at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, the main infectious disease facility in the capital, will be the first nurse in the country to receive the vaccine, followed by other health workers.
In Poland, the first two people to be vaccinated on Sunday will be a nurse and a doctor at the Interior Ministry Hospital in Warsaw, followed by medical staff in dozens of other hospitals. Polish Prime Minister Matthews Murawiecki described it as a patriotic duty of Poles to get vaccinated – a message to a society where there is a high degree of vaccine hesitancy resulting from a general distrust of the authorities.
In Bulgaria, where concerns about vaccines are growing, Health Minister Kustdin Angelov will be the first person to receive the vaccine, who has promised to launch a vigorous campaign to boost the benefits of vaccines.
In Croatia, where the first batch of 9,750 vaccines arrived early Saturday, the nursing home in Zagreb, the capital, will be the first to receive the vaccine Sunday morning, according to official HRT TV. The 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 Cato said on Saturday after the first batch of the vaccine arrived at an army-run storage facility.
Vaccines start when the first cases of a new virus variant that was circulating in the United Kingdom were detected in France and Spain. The new alternative, which British authorities said was easy to transfer, prompted European countries, the United States and China to impose new restrictions on people traveling from Britain.
The French Public Health Agency said a French man living in England arrived in France on December 19 and tested positive for the new variant on Friday. He has no symptoms and is isolated at his home in the city center of Tours.
Madrid health authorities said they had confirmed the presence of the British surrogate for four people, all of whom were in good health. Regional Health Director Enrique Ruiz Escudero said the new strain arrived when an infected person flew to Madrid airport.
The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is confident His coronavirus vaccine is working against the new variant in the UK, but he said more studies are needed to be absolutely sure.
I mentioned Jera from Warsaw, Poland. Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels, Angela Charlton in Paris, Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, Frances Demilio in Rome, Jovanna Jake in Belgrade, Serbia, and Veselin Tuchkov in Sofia, Bulgaria contributed to this report.
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