‘Window of hope’: Europe prepares to launch Covid-19 vaccinations

‘It is a historic milestone for all of us, an important day after such a difficult year’

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines that arrived in Portugal today. Photograph: EPA

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines that arrived in Portugal today. Photograph: EPA

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Hungary and Slovakia stole a march on their fellow European Union nations as they began vaccinating their people against coronavirus on Saturday.

The countries’ move comes a day ahead of rollouts in several other countries including France, Germany and Spain as the pandemic surges across the continent.

Mass vaccination across the European Union would be a crucial step towards ending a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million worldwide, crippled economies and destroyed businesses and jobs. The EU is home to almost 450 million people.

The arrival of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to a hospital in Nitra, Slovakia on Saturday. Slovakia started vaccinating this evening. Photograph: EPA
The arrival of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to a hospital in Nitra, Slovakia on Saturday. Slovakia started vaccinating this evening. Photograph: EPA

Hungary administered the vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, to frontline workers at hospitals in the capital Budapest after receiving its first shipment of enough doses to inoculate 4,875 people.

The first worker to receive the shot was a doctor at Del-Pest Central Hospital. Hungary has reported 315,362 cases with 8,951 deaths. More than 6,000 people are still in hospital with the disease, straining the central European country’s care system.

In Slovakia, Vladimir Krcmery, an infectologist and member of the government’s pandemic commission was the first person to receive the shot, followed by his colleagues.

The Hungarian and Slovak rollout came a day before countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain are to begin mass vaccinations, starting with health workers.

The distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which was first rolled out in Britain earlier this month, presents tough challenges. The vaccine uses new mRNA genetic technology, which means it must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -80 degrees.

Vaccine arrives in Ireland

In Ireland the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has arrived.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the country would begin its vaccination programme next Wednesday, with frontline healthcare workers and nursing-home residents first in line to get the jab.

“After a difficult and different Christmas for many people, it is wonderful to see the first deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines to Ireland today,” said Mr Donnelly. “The arrival of these vaccines . . . is a significant and positive” he added.

He said the recent increase in cases had focused “our collective minds on the continued challenge of Covid-19” and said the advent of “safe and effective vaccines will help us to protect the most vulnerable in our society as we ramp up our immunisation programme”.

Saturday marks the second day in a row that the number of daily infections climbed above the 1,000 mark. Before this week, the daily figure had not been above 1,000 since October 25th. There have been 2,200 deaths as a result of the pandemic and 85,394 confirmed cases of the disease in the Republic.

New variant in France, Spain

France, which received its first shipment of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Saturday, will start administering it on Sunday in the greater Paris area and in the Burgundy-Franche-Comte region.

“We have 19,500 doses in total, which amounts to 3,900 vials. These doses will be stored in our freezer at -80 degrees and will be then distributed to different nursing homes and hospitals,” said Franck Huet, head of pharmaceutical products for the Paris public hospital system.

The French government is hoping to get about one million people vaccinated in nursing homes during January and February, and then a further 14-15 million in the wider population between March and June.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved by the French medical regulator on Thursday.

France reported just 3,093 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Saturday, sharply down from the more than 20,000 cases on each of the previous two days, figures not seen since November 20th. But the seven-day moving average of daily new cases, which evens out reporting irregularities, is at about a one-month high.

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Tenerife, Spain. Photograph: EPA
The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Tenerife, Spain. Photograph: EPA

France’s number of confirmed virus cases now totals 2,550,864, the fifth-highest tally in the world, while its death toll stands at 62,573, the seventh-highest.

In a concerning development, the health ministry said on Friday that a man who recently arrived from London had tested positive for a new variant of the virus that has been spreading rapidly in southern England and is thought to be more infectious.

What about Spain?

In Spain, Madrid health authorities said on Saturday they had confirmed four cases of the new variant of the virus, as the country received its first deliveries of the vaccine.

The boxes arrived by truck at a storage facility near Madrid as dawn broke. Employees at Spain’s medicines agency unpacked the vaccine, which is stored in dry ice, with gloved hands.

“Vaccination will start tomorrow in Spain, co-ordinated with the rest of Europe,” said minister for health Salvador Illa. “This is the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”

Italian Police lead a truck carrying the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arriving at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, Italy. Photograph: EPA
Italian Police lead a truck carrying the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arriving at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, Italy. Photograph: EPA

Doses will be taken by air to the Spanish islands and the north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. They will also be transported by road to other regions where some 50,000 people have died from the disease.

Logistics in Germany

Germany, meanwhile, said trucks were on their way to deliver the vaccine to care homes for the elderly, which are first in line to receive the vaccine on Sunday.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases countrywide advanced by 14,455 to 1,627,103, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. More than 29,000 people have died, in total.

The federal government is planning to distribute more than 1.3 million vaccine doses to local health authorities by the end of this year and about 700,000 per week from January.

“There may be a few hiccups at one point or another in the beginning, but that is quite normal when such a logistically complex process begins,” said minister for health Jensen Spahn.

And in Portugal

A truck escorted by police dropped off the first batch of vaccines at a warehouse in the country’s central region. From there, the nearly 10,000 shots will be delivered to five big hospitals.

“It is a historic milestone for all of us, an important day after such a difficult year,” said minister for health Marta Temido outside the warehouse.

“A window of hope has now opened, without forgetting that there is a very difficult fight ahead.” – Reuters

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE