Injection of Urgency: UK’s Rapid Covid Vaccine Approval Could Set Pace for EU

Written by | Sunday, December 13th, 2020

With the festive season approaching, Europe appears to be rounding the corner on COVID-19 pandemic. The seven-day average of newly confirmed cases is trending downward after EU member countries imposed lockdowns or other social-distancing mandates, including closing restaurants and bars. After implementing a strict lockdown and closing nonessential businesses, France has brought daily new cases from about 50,000 a day to roughly 10,000. In early November, Belgium had the worst infection rate in Europe, with experts warning of the potential collapse of the nation’s health-care infrastructure. Now, it has the fifth lowest infection rate on the continent and plans in place to start distributing vaccines in the first week of January. Also the Italian government has announced an easing of restrictions in parts of the country, as coronavirus incidence rates dropped for the second consecutive week.
The UK is the first country in Europe to have already started its COVID-19 vaccination programme. But Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), says that Europeans are much “better protected” if the COVID-19 vaccine is authorised by the EU agency. All COVID-19 vaccines must be analysed before giving a “consistent authorisation that can be implemented at the beginning of the year (2021)”, said Cooke, adding that the EMA has no specific preference with regard to a COVID-19 vaccine in particular. Although the majority of COVID-19 vaccines have an efficiency rate of around 90% is “very good news”, said Cooke, but this is “the analysis of the companies” and it is up to EU authorities to confirm that the studies carried out so far are sufficient. “We are working very hard to meet the expectations of the European population,” she said.
And while Europe may thus follow the UK and approve a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks, the next challenge looms on the horizon: How to persuade enough people to take it. Experts say up to 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to be eradicated. In reality, however, multiple surveys have shown that Europeans are among the most sceptical of vaccines. A recent survey of more than 13,400 people in 19 countries found that people in Poland and France reported the most negative responses for whether people would get a COVID-19 vaccine. Germany, Spain and Sweden also showed more scepticism than other developed countries such as the United States and South Korea. “The broad trend our survey showed across the whole world was that the richer a country is and the more economically developed it is, the less confidence people tend to have in vaccines in those countries,” said Imran Khan, the head of public engagement at the Wellcome Trust.

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