Retired medics, armies enlisted for Europe's vaccine push
By Kirsti Knolle and Emilio Parodi (Reuters) - Student medics, retired doctors, pharmacists and soldiers are being drafted into a European COVID-19 vaccination campaign of unprecedented scale, beginning just after Christmas. As coronavirus cases continue to rise in a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million Europeans, the EU announced on Thursday that a bloc-wide inoculation campaign would begin on Dec
By Kirsti Knolle and Emilio Parodi
(Reuters) - Student medics, retired doctors, pharmacists and soldiers are being drafted into a European COVID-19 vaccination campaign of unprecedented scale, beginning just after Christmas.
As coronavirus cases continue to rise in a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million Europeans, the EU announced on Thursday that a bloc-wide inoculation campaign would begin on Dec. 27, four days after European authorities are expected to give approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Beyond hospitals and care homes, sports halls and convention centres emptied by lockdown measures will become venues for mass inoculations.
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.
Faced with a shortage of health professionals able to give the shot, many countries are on a recruitment drive. German states are calling on retired medics and company doctors to join the push, in some cases offering up to 140 euros ($170) an hour.
"This will probably be the biggest mass vaccination campaign in history, certainly of our century and our generation," Domenico Arcuri, Italy's special commissioner for the COVID emergency, told reporters at a launch of national plans.
A phased-in approach means frontline healthcare workers and elderly residents of care homes are being prioritised, with most national schemes not reaching the general public until the end of the first quarter of 2021 at the earliest.
The goal of the 27-member European Union is nonetheless to reach coverage of 70% of its 450 million people. The European Commission, which struggled in the early months of the crisis to persuade national capitals to work together, is calling for the inoculation drive to be coordinated across borders.
"This is a huge task. So let's start rapidly with the vaccination together, as 27, on the same day," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week.
On Thursday she confirmed the start date for the whole bloc would be Dec. 27. In a sign of the impatience of some member states, Germany had already announced that date on Wednesday.
Britain, which quit the EU this year, was the first country to deploy the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine outside of clinical trials, giving it emergency approval two weeks ago. It said nearly 140,000 people received their first shots in the first week of roll-out.
It is introducing a new national protocol allowing midwives, physiotherapists, pharmacists and others to give the shot.
"This will help ensure we have the workforce needed to deliver a mass COVID-19 vaccination programme, in addition to delivery of an upscaled influenza programme, in the autumn," a government consultation document said.
National rules vary by country. In France the injection must take place in the presence of a doctor. In Germany it can be administered by someone else as long as the patient can consult a doctor first.
There is a concern social distancing rules and paperwork could create bottlenecks at inoculation venues such as Berlin's Velodrom sports hall or the Hamburg trade hall.
Some countries face extra hurdles. Portugal is establishing separate cold storage units for its Atlantic archipelagos of Azores and Madeira; non-EU member Norway is buying doses from neighbouring Sweden.
Armies in countries including Switzerland and Italy are set to help secure vaccine supplies, while in Germany the Bundeswehr - already involved in contact-tracing - is on standby to help with injections if local regions need it.
With surveys showing many Europeans remain wary of taking a vaccine developed in record time, authorities are accompanying the push with information campaigns.
Stefano Boeri, the architect behind Italy's primrose-themed pavilions, said the spring flower was picked to "convey a sign of serenity and regeneration".
"If the virus has locked us in hospitals and homes, the vaccine will finally bring us back into contact with social life and the nature that surrounds us."
(Additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, John Miller in Zurich, Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Catarina Demony in Lisbon, Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Matthias Blamont in Paris and other Reuters bureaus around Europe; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Peter Graff)
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