Medical personnel is given the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Favoriten Clinic in Vienna, Austria, on December 27, 2020. GEORG HOCHMUTH/APA/AFP via Getty Images

European Union nations kicked off a mass effort on Sunday to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 450 million people.

The first vaccines, expected to go to healthcare workers and vulnerable people, began arriving at hospitals Saturday after the European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine last week.

EU countries are getting small quantities of the vaccine for now, fewer than 10,000 doses, until a larger distribution planned for January.

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European Union nations kicked off a mass effort on Sunday to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 450 million people, marking another milestone in combatting the pandemic.

Vulnerable people and healthcare workers began receiving shots Sunday morning, The Associated Press reported.

The first vaccines began arriving at hospitals Saturday after the European Medicines Agency approved a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech last week.

AP reported EU countries are getting small quantities of the vaccine for now, fewer than 10,000 doses, until a larger distribution effort that’s planned for January.

Europe has recently faced a growing concern over a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, which first appeared in the United Kingdom in September.

The new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible, and has been reported in EU nations including France, Spain, and Germany, as well as others.

BioNTech’s CEO said last week there’s a “relatively high” chance the vaccine will be effective against the new variant.

Europe’s vaccine roll out comes after the United States and the UK started distributing vaccines earlier this month.

At least 16 million coronavirus infections have been recorded among the 27 nations of the EU since the start of the pandemic and more than 336,000 deaths, AP reported.

Some EU nations have also reinstated lockdowns in recent weeks in response to surges, including Italy.

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Healthcare workers at Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, Italy were among the first to receive the vaccine.

“Today is a beautiful, symbolic day: All the citizens of Europe together are starting to get their vaccinations, the first ray of light after a long night,” Italian virus czar Domenico Arcuri said, according to AP.

EU countries can each decide how to distribute the doses, with most planning to start by vaccinating the elderly and people in nursing homes, NBC News reported.

“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a tweet.

“Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic.”

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