Europe initiated a continent wide vaccination programme against Covid-19 at an unprecedented scale on Sunday with the aim of ending the pandemic that had taken a heavy toll on economies and killed more than 1.7 million people globally.
Contracts with a range of suppliers for over two billion vaccine doses have been secured by the Europe Union for its 450 million residents and set a target of vaccinating all adults of the region by the next year.
Even though the healthcare systems of Europe is among the well-resourced in the world, the scale of the inoculation program means that retired medics have to be called into service by some countries while other countries have relaxed the rules about who could be allowed to give the jabs.
Political leaders from the 27-country European Union are trying to promote the vaccines as being the vest opportunity for people and the region to get back life to normal by next year because surveys have pointed out that there are high levels of hesitancy among people towards the vaccine in countries such as France and Poland
“We are starting to turn the page on a difficult year,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Brussels-based European Commission coordinating the programme, said in a tweet.
“Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic.”
There were criticisms of European governments of not coordinating enough with each other to prevent the spread of the virus at the beginning of the current year. This time the goal of the EU is to ensure that there is equitable distribution of the vaccines throughout the region.
However on Saturday, Hungary started to unilaterally administer the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech to frontline workers at hospitals in the capital Budapest a day prior to the date settled for the entire region by the EU.
Mass vaccinations, starting with health workers, are planned to be started on Sunday by other countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain. For countries outside of the EU, vaccination against Covid-19 has already started in Britain, Switzerland and Serbia.
There are however several challenges for the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine, developed using new mRNA technology, needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -80 degrees Celsius (-112°F).
The first shipment of the two-dose vaccine was received by France on Saturday and its administration will begin in the greater Paris area and in the Burgundy-Franche-Comte region.
On the other hand, Germany said that trucks carrying the vaccine at the ultra-low temperature are on their way and the vaccine will soon reach care homes for the elderly – the first group of people chosen to be administered the vaccine on Sunday. Sports halls and convention centres that had been vacated because of the lockdown will also become centres for the mass vaccination.
Healthcare pavilions, powered by solar power, have been developed in town squares around Italy and these centres are designed to look like five-petalled primrose flowers, a symbol of spring.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)