Doctors, nurses and the elderly rolled up their sleeves across the European Union to receive the first doses of the vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) on Sunday in a symbolic show of unity and moment of hope for a continent confronting its worst health care crisis in a century.
Even though a few countries gave out doses a day early, the coordinated rollout for the 27-nation bloc was aimed at projecting a unified message that the vaccine was safe and Europe’s best chance to emerge from the pandemic and the economic devastation caused by months of lockdown.
For health care workers who have been battling the virus with only masks and shields to protect themselves, the vaccines represented an emotional relief as well as a public chance to urge Europe’s 450 million people to get the shots for their own health and that of others.
“Today I’m here as a citizen, but most of all as a nurse, to represent my category and all the health workers who choose to believe in science,” said Claudia Alivernini, 29, the first person to be inoculated at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital in Rome.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called the vaccine, which was developed in record time, a “game-changer.”
“We know that today is not the end of the pandemic, but it is the beginning of the victory,” he said.
Italian virus czar Domenico Arcuri said it was significant that Italy’s first doses were administered at Spallanzani, where a Chinese couple visiting from Wuhan tested positive in January and became Italy’s first confirmed cases.
Within weeks, northern Lombardy became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe and a cautionary tale of what happens when even wealthy regions find themselves unprepared for a pandemic. Lombardy still accounts for around a third of the dead in Italy, which has the continent’s worst confirmed virus death toll at nearly 72,000. SOVEREIGNPH