Germany Hungary and Slovakia Begin Vaccinations Before EU Planned Coordinated Rollout.
Germany, Hungary and Slovakia began giving out their first coronavirus vaccine shots on Saturday, Dec. 26, only hours after receiving their first shipments, upsetting the European Union’s plans for a coordinated rollout Sunday across the bloc’s 27 nations.
“Every day that we wait is one day too many,” said Tobias Krueger, operator of a nursing home where immunizations began in Halberstadt, in the northeast German region of Saxony-Anhalt.
The first person at the home to be immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 101-year-old Edith Kwoizalla, reported local media. Krueger said 40 of the home’s 59 residents wanted the immunization shot along with 10 of around 40 workers. He was among those immunized but added, “I also understand the concerns.”
In Hungary, health care workers were vaccinated at the Southern Pest Central Hospital in Budapest, while in Slovakia, the first person to receive a jab was a 60-year-old top expert on infectious diseases, Vladimir Krcmery. He was vaccinated along with doctors at the University Hospital in the city of Nitra, in what Health Minister Marek Krajci called a “historic moment.”
The first shipments of the vaccine arrived at hospitals across the EU in super-cold containers late Friday and early Saturday after being sent from a manufacturing centre in Belgium before Christmas.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen released a video celebrating the vaccine rollout for the bloc of nearly 450 million people, calling it “a touching moment of unity.” “Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The COVID-19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin tomorrow across the EU,” she said.
The rollout marks a moment of hope for a region that includes some of the world’s earliest and worst-hit virus hot spots — Italy and Spain — and others like the Czech Republic, which were spared early on only to see their health care systems near their breaking point in the fall.
In all, EU nations have recorded at least 16 million coronavirus infections and more than 336,000 deaths — huge numbers that experts agree still understate the true toll of the pandemic due to missed cases and limited testing.
Still, the vaccine rollout helps the bloc project a sense of unity in a complex lifesaving mission after it faced a year of difficulties in negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain. It also brings a sigh of relief for EU politicians who were frustrated after Britain, Canada and the United States began their vaccination programs earlier this month with the same German-developed shot.
“It’s here, the good news at Christmas,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference Saturday, Dec. 26. “This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic … it is the key to getting our lives back,” he said.
The first shipments were limited to just under 10,000 doses in most countries, with the EU’s mass vaccination programs expected to begin only in January. Each country is deciding on its own who will get the first shots — but they are all putting the most vulnerable first.
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