Germany, Hungary and Slovakia have stolen a march on their fellow European Union (EU) nations by starting to vaccinate people against coronavirus.
- The vaccine will be rolled out to 27 European nations today
- The first person to be inoculated in Germany was a 101-year-old woman
- France, Spain and Sweden have reported cases of the new variant of the virus
It came a day ahead of the official vaccine rollout in other EU countries, including France and Spain, as the pandemic surges across the continent.
Mass vaccinations for the bloc — home to almost 450 million people — would be a crucial step towards handling a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million around the world, crippled economies and destroyed businesses and jobs.
In Germany, a small number of residents of a retirement home were inoculated on Saturday (European-time), 24 hours before the country’s official start of its campaign.
The first person to be vaccinated was Edith Kwoizalla, a 101-year-old resident at a nursing home in Halberstadt in the Harz hill range.
“This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic … it is the key to getting our lives back.”
Hungary administered the vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, to frontline workers at hospitals in Budapest, after receiving its first shipment of enough doses to inoculate 4,875 people.
The first Hungarian worker to receive the shot was Adrienne Kertesz, a doctor at Del-Pest Central Hospital.
In Slovakia, Vladimir Krcmery, an infectious disease specialist, was the first person to receive the vaccine, followed by colleagues.
France, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain will prioritise health workers when they begin mass vaccinations later today.
The distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was first rolled out in the UK earlier this month, presents tough challenges.
The vaccine uses new mRNA genetic technology, which means it must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of -80 degrees Celsius.
France, which received its first shipment yesterday, will start administering the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine 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,” said Franck Huet, head of pharmaceutical products for the Paris public hospital system.
“These doses will be stored in our freezer at -80 degrees and will be then distributed to different nursing homes and hospitals.”
The French Government is hoping to get around 1 million people vaccinated in nursing homes during January and February.
A further 15 million people elsewhere in France will receive the jab between March and June.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved by the French medical regulator on Thursday.
France has a total of 2,550,864 COVID-19 cases, the fifth-highest tally in the world.
Its death toll stands at 62,573, the seventh-highest internationally.
In a concerning development, the French Health Ministry announced that a man arriving from London had tested positive for a new variant of the virus thought to be more infectious.
Sweden also confirmed it had detected the first case of the new variant in a traveller from the UK.
Health authorities in Spain said they had detected four cases of the new variant, as the country received its first deliveries of the vaccine.
“Vaccination will start tomorrow in Spain, coordinated with the rest of Europe,” Health Minister Salvador Illa wrote on Twitter.