Coronavirus vaccination drive: Reasons for Europe’s low numbers

By: |
March 22, 2021 2:23 PM

France, some parts of Italy and some other regions in the continent have once again entered lockdown, as Europeans are roughly witnessing 20,000 deaths due to the infection every week.

This situation in Europe has caused a bit of a political turmoil as well. (Representational image)

Coronavirus vaccination in Europe: When the US was preparing to begin administering coronavirus vaccines to its citizens back in December, Europe was running behind and so, the leaders reached out to the American counterparts to learn, according to a report in NYT. A leader in vaccine research in the US, Dr Moncef Slaoui said that he was asked the same questions from President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Belgian PM Alexander De Croo – how the US managed to get to the stage of vaccinations and where the Europeans lacked.

Despite asking these questions, the gap between the vaccine rollout in the US and the European countries continues to widen, with several countries in Europe now witnessing a third deadly wave of the virus. France, some parts of Italy and some other regions in the continent have once again entered lockdown, as Europeans are roughly witnessing 20,000 deaths due to the infection every week.

What worsened the situation for Europe was that several countries decided to suspend vaccination using AstraZeneca doses due to a scare involving blood clots and bleeding. Now, even as most countries have resumed the jabs from Friday after an all-clear from the European health authorities, the people are still not very confident.

The administration of vaccines has also remained slow in the region, as only about 10% of Europeans have been given the first shot. This is quite low compared to the 23% figure in the US and 39% tally in Britain. But, according to the report, this is due to the cascading effect of several small decisions. The EU negotiated the contracts with drugmakers at a relatively slower pace, and the regulators approved some vaccines very cautiously and deliberatively. Moreover, Europe also advocated for some vaccines that did not work out and some that were disrupted due to supplies. Not just that, but local efforts in the region were discouraged by the red tapism in some of the countries.

However, one major reason behind this widening gap is the fact that while the US spent heavily in working on vaccines, practically entering into business with the manufacturers, the European Commission, which is the executive branch of the EU, remained cautious and approached the situation in a conservative manner, mindful of the budget, ultimately leaving the open market untouched for the most part.

According to Slaoui, the situation of the bloc remains the same now as it was in December, which is that Europe shopped for vaccines like customers, assuming that merely contracting and acquiring the vaccine doses would be sufficient. However, what was needed, he said, was for the bloc to become an active partner in the development ad production of the vaccine quite early on, like the US did. Notably, Slaoui had been brought onboard to speed up the development of vaccines in the US by then President Donald Trump so that the country could proactively find a solution to the pandemic that has now plagued the globe for over a year.

This situation in Europe has caused a bit of a political turmoil as well, causing a fallout between leaders of different countries. However, as compared to several other countries, the EU is in a much better position, with the bloc leaders saying that it remains in the position to vaccinate about 70% of the continent’s population by summer this year. Moreover, the EU has also ordered enough doses to fully vaccinate the entirety of its population at least thrice, a stark contrast to economically disadvantaged countries that would probably have to wait years before they are able to reach full coverage.

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