EU begins vaccine rollout as new virus strain spreads
Some European countries started rolling out their first coronavirus vaccines on Saturday, even as a reputedly more contagious variant spread around the world and the WHO warned that the current pandemic would not be the last.
In a video message ahead of the first International Day of Epidemic Preparedness on Sunday, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Saturday it was time to learn the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic.
"For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect," he said.
"We throw money at an outbreak, and when it's over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one. This is dangerously short-sighted, and frankly difficult to understand," he said.
The approval and roll-out of vaccines have boosted hopes that 2021 could bring a respite from the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.7 million people since emerging in China late last year.
First doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in EU countries including hard-hit Italy, Spain and France early on Saturday, ready for distribution to retirement homes and care staff.
"We'll get our freedom back, we'll be able to embrace again," Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said as he urged his countrymen to get the shot.
But polls show only 57 per cent of Italians intend to get the jab whereas scientists estimate herd immunity can only be reached if 75 to 80 per cent have it.
Vaccinations in all 27 European Union countries had been set to begin from Sunday, after regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 21.
But some countries began vaccinating on Saturday: a 101-year-old woman in a care home became the first person in Germany to be inoculated, and the first jabs were also handed out in Hungary and Slovakia.
The three EU countries joined China, Russia and Britain, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Serbia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia which have also begun their vaccination campaigns.
But jitters remained over a new strain that has emerged in Britain and reached several other European countries, as well as Japan.
Austria began a third national lockdown on Saturday and millions also woke to tougher restrictions in Britain.