The EU embarked on the inoculation of hundreds of millions of people in 27 nations on Sunday as global infections passed 80 million.
Most member states began vaccination programmes in a co-ordinated action that political leaders said showed the shared purpose and ambitions of the EU’s member states with its combined population of 447 million.
A growing list of countries identified cases of a fast-spreading mutation of the virus that has taken hold in the UK, which left the bloc earlier this year and concluded negotiations on its future relations last week.
EU member Hungary began its injections a day early for frontline hospital workers as its daily death toll fell below 100 for the first time in more than a month. Germany inoculated a woman, aged 101, in a care home with 40 others on Saturday, and Slovakia started its campaign.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said it would probably take until the middle of next year to give a shot to all citizens who want one.
Italy, which has recorded the highest death toll of any European nation and the fifth-highest worldwide, at more than 71,000, gave three health workers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Spallanzani in Rome. A Chinese couple visiting from Wuhan tested positive there in January and were Italy’s first confirmed cases.
On Thursday, Italy entered a new period of lockdown.
“The vaccine went very well and it was an exciting, historic moment,” nurse Claudia Alivernini, 29, told state-owned television Rainews24.
“It is the beginning of the end and I hope to be the first of more than 60 million Italians.”
France was due to start its vaccination campaign on Sunday with about 10 elderly residents and one staff member at a care home in Sevran, near Paris.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the vaccine, which was developed in record time, was a game changer.
“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the beginning of the victory,” he said.
Another vaccine, developed by Oxford University and drug maker AstraZeneca, could be approved by regulators in the UK this week.
The vaccine, which costs as little as £2 ($2.68), is considerably cheaper than Pfizer-BioNTech’s and does not have to be stored at as low a temperature.
But published trial results indicate the Oxford vaccine was less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot told British media it had figured out “the winning formula” to ensure its rates of success were similar to those of other vaccines.
The UK is expected to open vaccination clinics at conference and sports centres next month to expand the programme if the vaccine is approved.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to take the domestically produced Sputnik V vaccine.
“He said he will be vaccinated, he made this decision and was waiting until all formalities are completed,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.