Italy, one of the countries hit worst by the coronavirus pandemic, plans to launch a massive vaccination campaign in January, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Saturday.

The vaccine drive "will get underway towards the end of January when we hope to have the first doses," Speranza told a meeting of pharmacists.

"This campaign will be without precedent... it will require an extraordinary mobilisation" of resources, he said.

Italy, like its European peers struggling to cope with a devastating second wave of the pandemic, has recorded some 1.3 million cases and a death toll of nearly 50,000 since the coronavirus took hold early this year.

There has been a global effort to find treatments and vaccines and earlier this month US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech reported a breakthrough with a jab shown to be more than 90 percent effective.

The company this week applied for emergency use authorisation in the US and several other firms look set to follow in due course, with the first vaccines to be rolled out possibly before the end of this year.

"Vaccines represent a huge advance in the history of humanity," said Speranza, defending their use in a country which has seen some notable opposition to their introduction.

"Today we are talking about the concrete possibility that... in a short time we will dispose of this tool and that gives a measure of the capacity of human beings to react in the face of such a large challenge," he added.

Even as the virus continues to devastate the world economy and put health systems under intense pressure, strong anti-vaccination sentiment persists in many countries, despite efforts by the authorities to reassure people over their safety and effectiveness.

On Friday, the experts group set up to advise the Italian government, said both national and international oversight of vaccine development "gives us guarantees" on their safety.

However, an Ipsos opinion poll for the La7 television chain showed earlier this week that 16 percent of Italians  would refuse a vaccine available next year and 42 percent would wait to see if it was effective.

Only a third said they would definitely get the vaccine as soon as it was available.

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