In a bid to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, Europe is launching a cross-border vaccination programme for its 450 million people on Sunday (December 27).

The region has secured contracts with a range of suppliers for over two billion vaccine doses and has set a goal for all adults to be inoculated during 2021.

While Europe has some of the best-resourced healthcare systems in the world, the sheer scale of the effort means that some countries are calling on retired medics to help out 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 like 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.

"We are starting to turn the page on a difficult year," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Brussels-based European Commission, which is coordinating the programme, said in a tweet.

After European governments were criticised for failing to work together to counter the spread of the virus in early 2020, the goal this time is to ensure that there is equal access to the vaccines across the entire region.

Hungary already started to administer shots of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to frontline workers at hospitals in Budapest on Saturday (December 26).

Countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain are planning to begin mass vaccinations, starting with health workers on Sunday. Outside the EU, the UK, Switzerland, and Serbia already started vaccinations recently.

The distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot presents tough challenges. The vaccine uses new mRNA technology and must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of around -80 degrees Celsius (-112°F).

France, which received its first shipment of the two-dose vaccine on Saturday, will start administering it in the greater Paris area and in the Burgundy-Franche-Comte region.

Germany, meanwhile, said trucks were on their way to deliver the vaccine to care homes for the elderly, which are first in line to receive the vaccine.

In Italy, temporary solar-powered healthcare pavilions will spring up in town squares around the country, designed to look like five-petalled primrose flowers, a symbol of spring.

In Spain, doses are being delivered by air to its island territories and the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Portugal is establishing separate cold storage units for its Atlantic archipelagos of Azores and Madeira.



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