By Yuliya Talmazan
Mass vaccination programs began to roll out across Europe on Sunday after several countries reported cases of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
On what some have dubbed "V-Day," Germany, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain began inoculations, starting out with health care workers and those most at risk of contracting the disease.
The coordinated vaccination campaign of unprecedented scale in the European Union, home to almost 450 million people, is a crucial step in curbing the pandemic.
In Italy, the first doses of the vaccine developed by the American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, were administered to five health care workers at Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases, which has been on the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 since the beginning.
"Today is finally a good day," the country's virus czar, Domenico Arcuri, said at a news conference. "We see the light at the end of the tunnel."
But he warned that people should "continue to be prudent, cautious and responsible," as Italy, which has recorded Europe's highest number of deaths, 72,000, still has a long road ahead.
A total of 9,750 doses of the vaccine, which cleared regulatory hurdles in Europe last week, have arrived in the country to be distributed across its 20 regions, the Health Ministry said.
Altogether, the E.U.'s 27 countries have recorded nearly 15 million coronavirus infections and more than 353,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 1.7 million people have died worldwide.
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