Europe launched a mass vaccination campaign on Sunday with retirees and doctors lining up to take the first vaccines to curb the Covid-19 pandemic that has crippled economies and claimed more than 1.7 million lives around the world.
“Thank God,” said Araceli Hidalgo, 96, as she became the first person in Spain to receive a vaccine. He told staff at his nursing home in Guadalajara, near Madrid, that he had not felt a thing. “Let’s see if we can make this virus go away.”
In Italy, the first country in Europe to register a significant number of infections, 29-year-old nurse Claudia Alivernini was one of three medical staff to receive the first injections of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
“It is the beginning of the end […] it was an exciting historical moment, ”he said at the Spallanzani hospital in Rome.
The region of 450 million people has secured contracts with a variety of providers for more than two billion doses of vaccines and has set a goal for all adults to be vaccinated by 2021.
While Europe has some of the best-resourced healthcare systems in the world, the scale of the effort means that some countries are turning to retired doctors for help, while others have relaxed the rules on who can give injections.
With polls pointing to high levels of vacillation in countries from France to Poland, European Union leaders from 27 countries are touting it as the best chance to return to something like normal life next year.
“We are starting to turn the page in a difficult year,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission who coordinates the program, said in a tweet.
“Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic.”
After European governments came under fire for not working together to counter the spread of the virus in early 2020, the goal this time is to ensure that there is equal access to vaccines throughout the region.
But even then, Hungary was ahead of the official launch on Saturday by starting injections of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine to front-line workers in hospitals in the capital Budapest.
Slovakia also went ahead with some vaccinations for health workers on Saturday and in Germany, a small number of people in a nursing home were also vaccinated a day earlier.
“We don’t want to waste that day when the vaccine loses its shelf life. We want to use it immediately, ”Karsten Fischer from the Harz district pandemic staff in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt told local broadcaster. MDR.
Pfizer-BioNTech injection distribution presents tough challenges. The vaccine uses new mRNA technology and must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of approximately -70 degrees Celsius.
Beyond the hospitals and residences, the sports halls and convention centers emptied by the closure measures will become places of mass vaccination.
In Italy, temporary solar-powered health pavilions designed to resemble five-petal primrose flowers, a symbol of spring, have sprung up in city squares across the country.
In Spain, the doses were sent by air to its island territories and to the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Portugal is establishing separate cold storage units for its Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores.
“Now a window of hope has opened, without forgetting that there is a very difficult fight ahead,” Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido told reporters.
In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis was at the head of the queue. In Vienna, three women and two men over the age of 80 received the vaccine in the presence of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
“We are at war, but our weapon has arrived and it is in these little jars,” said the head of Bulgaria’s anti-virus working group, General Ventsislav Mutafchiiski, after being vaccinated in Sofia.
Outside the EU, Britain, Switzerland and Serbia have already started vaccinating their citizens in recent weeks.