European Union launches mass vaccination program

The European Union (EU) launched the first phase of its mass vaccination program on Sunday, with doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine delivered to all 27 member states.

The trade bloc faces a major logistical challenge as vaccines are rolled out as a new Covid-19 variant spreads through multiple countries.

“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday on Twitter.

“The [Covid-19] vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries,” she said, adding that the rollout would begin on Sunday.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was authorized by the EU on December 21, amid a winter surge in cases.

The vaccine, which is made up of two doses, needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures.

Some EU countries began their vaccinations a day early, with doses administered in Slovakia and Germany on Saturday.

On Sunday, vaccinations began in Italy, Spain and France, with a focus on frontline health care workers, nursing home residents and the elderly.

In Spain, the first person to receive a dose of the vaccine was a 96-year-old resident in a nursing home. The second was a staff member at the same home.

Italy has received 9,750 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The first five people to be given it on Sunday were frontline medical and research workers.

“We have acted in unity throughout this pandemic. Today we begin to turn the page on this chapter, together,” the European Commission said on Twitter.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is continuing its rolling review of other promising vaccine candidates, including those from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and Johnson & Johnson.

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