ROME – Doctors, nurses and elders rolled up their sleeves across the European Union on Sunday to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in a time of unity and hope for the Old Continent.
Even though a few countries started administering it a day earlier, its deployment coordinated by the bloc of 27 nations was aimed at affirming with one voice that the vaccine is safe and that it represents the best chance to emerge from the crisis.
For healthcare workers, the first doses brought great relief as well as an opportunity to publicly urge the 450 million Europeans to be vaccinated for their own health and that of others around them.
“Today I am here as a citizen, but above all as a nurse, to represent my category and all healthcare workers who choose to believe in science,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, the first of five professionals to receive the vaccine at the Spallanzani hospital in Rome.
The manager of the virus management in Italy, Domenico Arcuri, pointed out that the country’s first doses were administered to Spallanzani since this is the place where COVID-19 was first detected in January, through of a Chinese couple visiting from Wuhan. Within weeks, northern Lombardy became the epicenter of the virus in Europe and served as a warning for wealthy regions that were unprepared for a pandemic.
“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the start of victory,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday.
The vaccines developed by the German company BioNTech and the American manufacturer Pfizer began arriving in hospitals across the European Union on Friday, transported in containers kept at very low temperatures from a factory in Belgium.
Each country received only a fraction of the required doses – less than 10,000 in the first batches – with a larger rollout expected in January, when more doses become available. Everyone who gets vaccinated on Sunday will need a second dose in three weeks.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that with other products currently in development, the EU will have more vaccines than it needs in 2021. The bloc could share its surpluses with the Western Balkans and countries Africans, she said.
– Par Nicole Winfield et Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press