A top European Union official said Wednesday that the first citizens in the 27 nation bloc could be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Christmas, but she warned that member countries must urgently prepare their logistical chains for the rollout of hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines.
Claiming that "there's finally light at the end of the tunnel," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers that "the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December."
The commission, the EU's executive arm, has agreements with six potential vaccine suppliers and is working on a seventh contract. The deals allow it to purchase over 800 million doses, more than the population of the bloc, which stands at around 460 million people.
On Tuesday, Brussels said it would sign a contract for up to 160 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, which the company says appears to be 94.5% effective, according to its preliminary data.
But von der Leyen said that while vaccines are important, "what counts are vaccinations."
"Member states must get ready now. We're talking about millions of syringes, we're talking about cold chains, we're talking about organizing vaccination centers, we're talking about trained personnel that is there. You name it. All this has to be prepared," she warned.
Still, Von der Leyen urged European citizens to continue respecting restrictions, even as the measures harm businesses, further damage coronavirus-ravaged economies and put people through social and mental hardship.
"With nearly 3,000 deaths a day, Covid-19 was the number one cause of death in the EU last week. Hospitals remain under stress, and in some regions some intensive care units are overwhelmed," she said.
"We must learn from the summer and not repeat the same mistakes. Relaxing too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," von der Leyen said, adding that "this Christmas will be different, and yes, it will be quieter."