Europe launches massive Covid-19 vaccination drive

MADRID/ROME: Europe launched a massive Covid-19 vaccination drive yesterday with pensioners and medics lining up to get the first shots to see off a pandemic that has crippled economies and claimed more than 1.7 million lives worldwide.

"Thank God," 96-year-old Ms Araceli Hidalgo said as she became the first person in Spain to receive a vaccine. She told the staff at her care home near Madrid she had not felt a thing.

"Let's see if we can make this virus go away," she said.

In Italy, the first country in Europe to record significant numbers of infections, 29-year-old nurse Claudia Alivernini was one of three medical workers at the head of the queue for the shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

"It is the beginning of the end... it was an exciting, historical moment," she said at Rome's Spallanzani hospital.

The region of 450 million people has secured contracts with a range of suppliers for more than two billion vaccine doses and has set a goal for all adults to be inoculated next year.

While Europe has some of the best-resourced healthcare systems in the world, the sheer scale of the effort means some countries are calling on retired medics to help, while others have loosened rules for who is allowed to give the injections.

With surveys pointing to high levels of hesitancy towards the vaccine in countries such as France and 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.

Meanwhile, the vaccine developed by the British drug group AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford has achieved a "winning formula" for efficacy, the company's chief executive said yesterday.

The vaccine, currently being evaluated by Britain's independent medicine regulator, provides "100 per cent protection" against severe Covid disease requiring hospitalisation, Mr Pascal Soriot told the Sunday Times newspaper.

He believes trials will show his company has achieved a vaccine efficacy equal to Pfizer-BioNTech at 95 per cent and Moderna at 94.5 per cent.

"We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else," he said, while saying only that data would be published at "some point". - REUTERS, AFP