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EU countries receive COVID-19 vaccines ahead of rollout

EU countries receive COVID-19 vaccines ahead of rollout
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Countries in the European Union began receiving their first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine this weekend ahead of a massive rollout planned for Sunday.

Efforts will be underway Sunday to vaccinate vulnerable people and first-priority medical workers in some of the countries that experienced the brunt of the virus's first wave this spring, including the Czech Republic, Italy and Spain, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s here, the good news at Christmas,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said, according to the AP. “At this moment, trucks are underway across Europe, across Germany and its regions, to deliver the first vaccine. More deliveries will follow the day after tomorrow. This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic.”

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The European bloc's 27 member nations have seen a combined 16 million coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with 336,000 fatalities, the AP reported.

Doses of about 10,000 per country began shipping out of Pfizer-BioNTech's manufacturing center in Belgium before Christmas.

While the first shipments are relatively small in scale, the mass vaccination program is slated to begin in January and will focus on immunizing many more people across the EU.

The EU has agreed to purchase up to 300 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses and millions more from other manufacturers such as Moderna.

Each country is responsible for its own rules regarding vaccine distribution, though nations are unanimously prioritizing elderly populations and medical professionals who are constantly at risk for exposure and contracting the virus.

In Germany, those over the age of 80 and people who take care of vulnerable groups will receive the first vaccines.

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In countries such as Poland and Bulgaria, members of the public have expressed some apprehension to taking the vaccine over a general distrust of authorities, the AP reported.

Officials in Poland have pleaded with residents that receiving a vaccine would be their patriotic duty and help achieve herd immunity, while Croatian officials have said they plan to issue an aggressive campaign to demonstrate the benefits of coronavirus inoculations.

As vaccine rollouts begin across the EU, officials have warned about a new strain of the virus that is reportedly 56 percent more contagious. The strain has spread rapidly in the U.K. and has been detected in multiple other countries.