ROME, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Italy passed a positive milestone on Friday, with 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine having been administered just 19 days after the country launched its nationwide vaccination program.
The development was praised by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and President Sergio Mattarella and was a top story on Italy's major news sites.
The key indicator represents a dramatic increase in the pace of distributing the vaccines: it took the country 13 days to give the first 500,000 shots and just 6 to give the next 500,000. According to estimates in the Italian media, the next 500,000 doses could be distributed by late Monday or early Tuesday.
As of Jan. 9, the latest figures available, Italy led Europe in terms of overall COVID-19 vaccine distribution, mostly using the vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech. Another vaccine from drug maker Moderna has been approved for use in Italy and started to be distributed earlier this week.
A third vaccine, from Oxford University and AstraZeneca, is the most prominent in a group of three vaccines being evaluated by Italian health officials. AstraZeneca has vowed to provide Italy with 40 million doses of its vaccine by June.
The 1-million-dose milestone does not mean that the same amount of people have been vaccinated since the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses per person in order to be effective.
The developments came as Italy's coronavirus infection rate starts to inch higher after a mild lull in December. On Friday, the country recorded more than 16,000 new COVID-19 infections and nearly 500 deaths from the virus.