Countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain are planning to begin mass vaccinations, starting with health workers on Sunday. Latin American country Mexico started vaccination on Saturday. Argentina and Chile to start by next week.
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.
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.
Countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain are planning to begin mass vaccinations, starting with health workers on Sunday.
"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."
Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries.
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.
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.It is one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic.
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.
Outside the EU, Britain, Switzerland and Serbia have already started in recent weeks. As per a report by Sunday Telegraph, The United Kingdom will roll out Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine from Jan. 4, according to plans being drawn up by ministers.
The government hopes to give the first dose of either the Oxford vaccine, which has been licensed to pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca, or the Pfizer vaccine to 2 million people over the next two weeks, the newspaper said.
The Oxford vaccine is expected to be approved by medical regulators in days, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, the vaccination process started in different Latin American countries today.
In Costa Rica, health workers administered the first doses of Pfizer vaccine to a pair of senior citizens in a home near the capital San Jose, while some 300,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine arrived in Argentina.
"My message is that everyone should be vaccinated," said Jorge De Ford, a 72-year-old former university professor who was one of the first two in Costa Rica to get the injection.
It will begin vaccinating its citizens against coronavirus on Tuesday using the recently delivered Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the government said on Saturday, following its approval by health authorities for emergency use.
Argentine president Alberto Fernández and provincial governors said health personnel would receive their vaccines in less than 72 hours. Around 300,000 doses arrived in Argentina on Thursday, and subsequent shipments are expected early in 2021.
Argentina became the third country to approve the Sputnik V vaccine, after Russia and Belarus. Argentina has also approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
59-year-old nurse Maria Irene Ramirez was the first person to be inoculated against COVID-19, which killed 120,000 people in the country.
In a ceremony broadcast on national media and watched by the president, officials directed the administration of the Pfizer vaccine to Ramirez, head nurse at the intensive care unit of Mexico City's Ruben Lenero hospital.
"This is the best gift that I could have received in 2020," said Ramirez, adding that it would give her strength to continue the "war" against the pandemic.
Pfizer's is the first COVID-19 vaccine to reach Mexico, which has also signed deals for vaccines from other firms.
Chile received the first 10,000 doses of a 10-million order of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on Thursday, with inoculations of health workers due to begin immediately.
No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved yet for use in Brazil, Latin America's most populous country.
(With inputs from agencies)
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