Vatican City plans swift COVID-19 vaccination drive for residents

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FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis joins inter-religious prayer service for peace in Rome church

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Vatican City, the world's smallest sovereign state, expects to receive enough COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming days to inoculate all of its workers and residents, a statement said on Saturday.

The Vatican is home to about 450 people, including Pope Francis, while several hundred of its employees live in Rome, which surrounds the city state.

"It is likely that the vaccines could arrive in the state in the second week of January in sufficient quantity to cover the needs of the Holy See and the Vatican City State," the statement said. The Holy See is the Roman Catholic Church's governing body that operates from within Vatican territory.

The Vatican said it had bought an ultra-cold refrigerator to store the doses, suggesting it will use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which must be stored at about minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit).

Vaccinations will start in the second half of January, with priority given to health and public safety personnel, the elderly and staff in frequent contact with the public, the Vatican said.

Shots will be administered on a voluntary basis, it added.

Pope Francis is 84 and had part of one lung removed during an illness when he was a young man in his native Argentina, making him potentially vulnerable to the disease. The Vatican did not say if or when he would be vaccinated.

According to data collated by worldometers.info, 27 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Vatican City so far, and no deaths. Two Vatican cardinals tested positive last month.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Helen Popper)