BRUSSELS (AP) – Despite a slow start, the European Union’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has caught up with that of the United States, where the slowdown in the country’s once-vaunted campaign has contributed to the virus’s deadly return.
As of mid-February, less than 4% of people living in the EU27 were at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus, compared to almost 12% in the United States, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication linked at the University of Oxford.
Now the EU has overtaken the United States by the same measure, with some 60% of residents in the block receiving at least one dose, compared to less than 58% of Americans.
In Italy, where around 63% of people aged 12 and over are fully protected, Prime Minister Mario Draghi won a victory lap last week.
“I said I didn’t want to celebrate the successes, but it must be said that Italy inoculated more doses per 100 inhabitants than France, Germany, the United States,” he said. when the country’s vaccine verification program goes into effect on Friday. .
Italians now have to prove they have received at least one dose of vaccine, recovered from COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus if they want to dine indoors, use gyms or go to concerts, theaters , museums and tourist sites such as the Colosseum.
European authorities attribute success in Italy and elsewhere to nationalized healthcare and a history of public confidence in vaccine safety.
The slowness of the EU vaccine approval process pushed the bloc back at first, but it is now paying off as it instills more confidence in rapidly developed formulas, said Dr Peter Liese, Member of the European Parliament. in Germany.
As the US and Britain issued emergency vaccine authorizations to get injections quickly, the EU went through the longer process of granting full approvals, which took weeks delay.
“I am convinced that we have a good argument to explain to people who are still hesitant that the vaccine has been properly tested in Europe,” Liese said recently. âNow it is becoming clear that not only the pace of vaccination in the first few months, but also the long-term strategy are important. “
The turnaround in Spain is pronounced. By mid-April, when nearly a quarter of all Americans were fully vaccinated, only 7% of Spaniards were similarly protected, according to Our World in Data. Today, nearly 60% of Spain’s roughly 47 million people are fully vaccinated, while about half of the United States is.
Portugal, with around 10 million people, had fully immunized about a third of its population by the end of June. Now officials say it’s on track to hit 70% by the end of the summer.
Like the US vaccination campaign, the European Union effort began around Christmas and struggled to meet initial demand. But it quickly turned into a major political embarrassment for European officials, as the United States and Britain took the lead.
The main factor that held back the EU initially was its decision to buy vaccines in bulk rather than as individual countries. The move made it possible not to overlook the smaller member countries, but negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies ultimately took longer, said Giovanna De Maio, visiting scholar in international relations at George Washington University.
The United States has also been more efficient in distributing the vaccine, quickly setting up large-scale vaccination sites and also providing vaccines to pharmacies, grocery stores and other neighborhood locations, while the EU has is initially focused on hospitals and other medical facilities, she said.
EU countries were also overconfident that manufacturers would measure up. It turned out that Astra-Zeneca failed to deliver its injections on time and delivered a derisory number of doses. Concerns about its safety and effectiveness have also contributed to skepticism about the vaccine. But with the major rollout of the Pfizer plan, things have changed.
Meanwhile, the U.S. vaccination effort peaked and then fell dramatically in the face of significant hesitation and outright hostility, fueled by misinformation and partisan politics.
At the end of July, the United States was dispensing on average less than 600,000 injections per day, against a peak of more than 3.4 million per day in April. The highly contagious delta variant has spiked new daily cases over the past month to levels not seen since February. The vast majority of people hospitalized were not vaccinated.
However, all is not well within the EU. The differences between the Member States are huge. For example, in the Netherlands 85% of adults received at least one dose. In Bulgaria, it is less than 20%.
There are also disturbing signs that Europe’s campaign is running out of steam.
In Germany, where 54% of the population is fully vaccinated, the number of vaccines administered per day has increased from more than one million in May to around 500,000.
Authorities there have started pushing for more vaccinations in megastores and city centers and are offering incentives. A vaccination campaign in the state of Thuringia included free bratwurst, while sites in Berlin were planning to have music played by DJs this weekend in hopes of encouraging young people to get vaccinated.
De Maio said she believes nationwide vaccination mandates like her Green Pass program in Italy could help EU countries avoid America’s fate.
“European politicians see it coming and they are taking these steps,” she said of the potential to block vaccination efforts in Europe. “They are desperately trying to avoid this because Europe cannot afford another lockdown, given the heavy economic toll COVID has already taken.”
Marcelo reported from Boston. Associated Press reporters Frank Jordans in Berlin, Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed to this story.