BERLIN – From nursing homes in France to hospitals in Poland, older Europeans and the workers they care for on Sunday rolled up to receive a coronavirus vaccine in a campaign to protect more than 450 million people across the European Union.
Vaccines have provided a rare respite as the continent grapples with one of its most dangerous moments since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Despite national closures, movement restrictions, restaurant closures and the cancellation of Christmas gatherings, the virus has caused Europe to enter the bleak winter months. The spread of A more contagious variant The virus in Britain raised such an alarm, as much of continental Europe scrambled to close their borders to travelers from the country, plunging the nation as a whole into quarantine.
In Germany, a nursing home in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt chose not to wait for the start of the planned vaccination campaign on Sunday across the European Union, as it vaccinated a 101-year-old woman and dozens of other residents and employees on Saturday, hours after the doses arrived. People were also vaccinated on Saturday in Hungary and Slovakia.
Early Sunday, dozens of minibuses carrying coolers filled with dry ice to prevent Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses from rising to minus 70 degrees Celsius, moved to nursing homes across the German capital as part of the wave of vaccinations. The outbreak comes as the largest country in Europe is facing its bloodiest period since the start of the epidemic.
With nearly 1,000 deaths recorded in Germany every day in the week before Christmas, a crematorium in the eastern state of Saxony is working around the clock, directly during the holiday, to keep up.
“I’ve never had to see it this bad before,” said Evelyn Mueller, the facility manager, in Görlitz.
More than 350,000 people have died in the 27 countries that make up the European Union due to COVID-19 since it was the first death. Registered in France On February 15th, it was the worst days of recent weeks for many countries. In Poland, November was the deadliest month since the end of World War II.
While doctors have learned how to better care for Covid-19 patients, effective medical treatment remains elusive. So the rapid development of vaccines is being hailed not only as a brilliant scientific achievement, but also as the hope for a world off its axis.
However, the euphoria over news of successful vaccine candidates has subsided in November, as vaccine launches in Britain and the United States highlight the challenges ahead.
Meanwhile, vaccination campaigns in Russia and China are using products that have not removed the same regulatory hurdles as those created by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, vaccines currently being rolled out in the West.
Mexico became the first Latin American country to start vaccinating its population on Friday. And regulators in India are expected to soon approve a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
By the new year, the largest pollination effort in human history is expected to be in full swing. But the lack of supplies, logistical obstacles, disinformation, public suspicion and the sheer scale of the effort ensure it will be an uphill struggle against an ever-evolving virus.
While experts said there was no indication that any known variant would make vaccines less effective in individuals, they said further study was needed. The higher the infection rate, the greater the need to vaccinate people.
The new alternative is Spread in Britain with this ferocity That there is a growing debate about whether more people should be given a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – which provides nearly 50 percent efficacy in preventing disease – rather than giving fewer people the two required doses for 95 percent protection levels.
However, the launch of the vaccine was celebrated across Europe.
“Today, we begin to turn the page in a difficult year,” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said. He wrote on Twitter. “The # COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all European Union countries.”
The Greeks call their vaccination campaign “Operation Freedom.” As in most of Europe, there are deep suspicions about coronavirus vaccines, and the slogan aims to sway hesitant people.
For Italians – whose suffering at the start of the pandemic was a warning to the world, and whose current death toll is again among the worst in Europe – a 29-year-old nurse stepped up to take the first shot.
“It’s the beginning of the end,” said the nurse, Claudia Olvernini, after she got her vaccination early in the morning at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome.
She said: “We, health workers, believe in science, and we believe in this vaccine, and it is important to be vaccinated, for ourselves, for those close to us, for our loved ones, for the association and for our patients.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte celebrated this moment.
“Today Italy is waking up again. It’s #VaccineDay,” he wrote on Twitter. “This date will be with us forever.”
For some countries, the first vaccines provide an opportunity to compensate for failures during the first wave of the epidemic.
In the spring, as the virus engulfed nursing homes in France, the crisis remained in the shadows until deaths reached a level that could no longer be ignored. So there was a symbolic resonance when residents of the nursing home were chosen to receive the country’s first vaccinations.
In Spain, where more than 16,000 people died in nursing homes in the first three months of the pandemic, a vaccination campaign was also scheduled to begin in a nursing home in Guadalajara.
European Union member states have shown solidarity by waiting for the federation’s regulatory council, the European Medical Association, to approve the vaccine before the start of coordinated national campaigns. However, the manner in which these will be done in individual countries is likely to vary.
All EU member states have national healthcare systems, so people will be vaccinated for free. But just as hospitals in poor member states such as Bulgaria and Romania have been overwhelmed by the latest wave of the virus, networks in those countries will face challenges in distributing vaccines.
As each country determines how to implement its campaign, the first phase will generally focus on the people most at risk of exposure and those most likely to suffer from serious health conditions – healthcare workers and older citizens.
Most member states have said they expect the vaccine to reach the general population by spring, and a return to some sense of normality may come very soon.
In October, France was among the first countries in Europe to impose a second lockdown, and although it began lifting restrictions, the re-opening did not come as quickly as many had hoped.
Museums, theaters and cinemas, which were expected to reopen on December 15, remained closed, with curfews from 8pm to 6am across the country. The lights in the trees along the Champs-Elysées in Paris still twinkle every night, but there are no shoppers or tourists to enjoy their glow.
The chairs stacked in empty bars, restaurants and cafes remind us of the absence that marked 2020.
Natalie and Adrian Delgado, a Parisian couple in their 50s, said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible. “It’s an act of citizenship,” said Ms. Delgado, who was celebrating Christmas in Paris with the couple’s two children instead of visiting her mother. “It’s not even for me, but it’s the only way to stop the virus.”
Others weren’t sure.
Sandra Frutoso, a 27-year-old housekeeper who has also canceled her plans to visit her family in Portugal, said she feared illness – her husband had been infected and recovered since – but that she would not be vaccinated “for a long time”.
“They made it very quickly,” she said. “I am concerned that the side effects could be worse than Covid itself for someone my age.”
Germans’ readiness to be vaccinated has decreased in recent months, and the government hopes that acceptance of the vaccines will increase.
When asked last week how long life might take before life returns to normal, BioNTech co-founder Ugur Shaheen warned that even with immunization, the virus will continue for the rest of the decade.
“We need a new definition of the word” normal, “he told reporters, although he added that with adequate vaccinations, the closures could end as early as next year.
Mr. Shaheen said: “This year we will not have an effect on the numbers of infections, but we have to make sure that next year we will have enough vaccinations so that the situation is normal.”
Melissa Eddy I mentioned from Berlin, and Marc Santora from London. Contribute to reporting Aureline Bredine from Paris , Nikki Ketsantonis from London, Elisabetta Bufolido From Rome, Raphael Minder From Madrid and Monica Bronczuk From Brussels.