Europe rolls out Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in bid to leave Covid-19 pandemic behind
Europe launches a cross-border vaccination programme of unprecedented scale on Sunday as part of efforts to end a Covid-19 pandemic that has crippled economies and claimed more than 1.7 million lives around the world.
The region of 450 million people has secured contracts with a range of suppliers for over two billion vaccine doses and has set a goal for all adults to be inoculated during 2021.
While Europe has some of the best-resourced healthcare systems in the world, the sheer scale of the effort means that some countries are calling on retired medics to help out while others have loosened rules for who is allowed to give the injections.
With surveys pointing to high levels of hesitancy towards the vaccine in countries from France to Poland, leaders of the 27-country European Union are promoting it as the best chance of getting back to something like normal life next year.
“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.”
After European governments were criticised for failing to work together to counter the spread of the virus in early 2020, the goal this time is to ensure that there is equal access to the vaccines across the entire region.
But even then, Hungary on Saturday jumped the gun on the official roll-out by starting to administer shots of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to frontline workers at hospitals in the capital Budapest.
Countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain are planning to begin mass vaccinations, starting with health workers on Sunday. Outside the EU, Britain, Switzerland and Serbia have already started in recent weeks.
The distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot presents tough challenges. The vaccine uses new mRNA technology and must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of around -80 degrees Celsius (-112°F).
France, which received its first shipment of the two-dose vaccine on Saturday, will start administering it in the greater Paris area and in the Burgundy-Franche-Comte region.
Germany, meanwhile, said trucks were on their way to deliver the vaccine to care homes for the elderly, which are first in line to receive the vaccine on Sunday.
Beyond hospitals and care homes, sports halls and convention centres emptied by lockdown measures will become venues for mass inoculations.
In Italy, temporary solar-powered healthcare pavilions will spring up in town squares around the country, designed to look like five-petalled primrose flowers, a symbol of spring.
In Spain, doses are being delivered by air to its island territories and the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Portugal is establishing separate cold storage units for its Atlantic archipelagos of Azores and Madeira.
“A window of hope has now opened, without forgetting that there is a very difficult fight ahead,” Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido told reporters.
More than 30 people were injured, including 10 seriously, on Friday in a "tornado" which hit the western German city of Paderborn, a police spokesman told AFP. The tornado also caused significant damage in the city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state and followed abnormally high temperatures for the time of year.
Massive opposition to the army’s takeover has evolved into what some U.N. experts characterize as a civil war. The new armed rebel groups opposed to the takeover have allied themselves with some of the major ethnic minority guerrilla organizations, stretching the military's resources. Offering generous peace terms to the ethnic groups could shake the anti-government alliances.
Canada announced Friday a ban on trade in luxury goods with Russia, and added 14 more Russian oligarchs and other associates of President Vladimir Putin to its sanctions list imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. The ban aligns with similar measures imposed by allies such as the United States and the European Union, and "will help to mitigate the potential for Russian oligarchs to circumvent restrictions in other luxury goods markets," the government said.
The UN human rights Michelle Bachelet's six-day China visit -- the first since 2005 -- beginning Monday will include a trip to the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, where China has been accused of human rights violations. Bachelet will be in China between May 23 and 28 during which she will visit Urumqi and Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and the southern province of Guangzhou.
Russian supply of natural gas to Finland will be cut on Saturday morning, Finnish and Russian energy companies said Friday, after the Nordic country refused to pay supplier Gazprom in rubles. Gazprom Export, the exporting arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, said it had not received payment for gas supplied in April and would therefore halt deliveries from Saturday. Gazprom Export said it would defend its interests in court by any "means available".