A mammoth task: EU rolls out COVID-19 vaccineComments
All across Europe, people are rolling up their sleeves to receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The European Union officially launched its mass vaccination programme on Sunday (December 27), with health workers and pensioners receiving the first injections.
Despite some early complications over temperature controls, there's hope that the Pfizer-BioNTech jab could finally bring an end to the pandemic and the restrictions linked to it.
The vaccination campaign is being coordinated across all 27 EU member states, something European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called "a touching moment of unity".
"In our time, nothing like this has been done before," said Jeffrey Lazarus, an associate research professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal).
The EU has ordered 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be distributed across the continent. The goal is to ensure no member state is left behind.
So far, each country has only been getting a fraction of the doses needed — fewer than 10,000 in the first batches — with the bigger rollout expected in January when more vaccines become available.
Because health care is a national competence, the details of the rollout are managed by individual member states.
And there are different ways of handling such a campaign and communicating about the vaccine. In Greece, the president and prime minister were vaccinated publicly. But other countries, like France, are reluctant to do that because of the prevalence of vaccine scepticism.
In France, Poland and Hungary, more than 40 per cent of people surveyed say they do not want to be given the new vaccine, often for fear of its potential side effects. Studies show Europeans are among the most sceptical of vaccines, which could limit uptake of this new shot.
"It's important that people are willing to be vaccinated. The vaccines are safe and they're effective –they are not only a protection for people themselves but also, of course, for those around them," Von der Leyen said in a video message on Saturday.
Experts say around 70 per cent of the population would need to be vaccinated in order to eradicate the spread of COVID-19.
Jeffrey Lazarus, of ISGlobal, says it will be important for governments to address people’s concerns over the new vaccines, rather than "ignoring them or shoving them aside".
"I think as time goes by and we see the results that there really are no major side effects, that will help," he added.