COVID-19 Jabs & Jab-Nots: Why Europe’s Vaccination Strategy is Failing

Written by | Friday, February 26th, 2021

European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday (25-26 February) will see leaders discuss the EU’s response to the ongoing pandemic and the vaccination rollout strategy. The current rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Europe is way behind that of several nations such as the UK, the US and Israel. Also on Thursday (25 February), the European Parliament’s environment and industry committees will meet with the leaders of various pharmaceutical companies to debate ways of how to increase vaccine production and improve delivery. “Nothing we can do is more costly than the human and economic cost of this pandemic. We must act faster and think bigger,” Dutch MEP Esther de Lange commented ahead of that meeting. German MEP Peter Liese, a medical doctor and EPP health spokesman, added that “we need a European Health Union to better fight against pandemics in the future.” Further comment came from another MEP and EPP leader Manfred Weber who stressed that “the only acceptable strategy to fight the COVID pandemic now is ‘whatever it takes.’”
The European Commission has written to Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, and Sweden, urging them to obey to the travel restrictions recommendations of the European Council. These six member states have introduced, to some extent, a ban on entry or exit from the country on public health grounds during the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The European executive also defended the EU’s strict regulatory process for vaccines as crucial for both safety as well as for persuading EU citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight any particular vaccine hesitancy with more information. The comments come after several EU members reported a low acceptance rate for the AstraZeneca vaccine, with healthcare workers opting for other jabs – triggering fears over a knock-on potential slowdown of national vaccine programmes.
Meanwhile, the French government ordered a weekend lockdown in the Dunkirk area to arrest an “alarming” rise in COVID-19 cases, signalling extra curbs might also be needed elsewhere as daily cases nationwide hit their highest since November last year. Also the Czech government will debate possible tighter coronavirus measures at a Thursday evening meeting, after ministers did not reach a decision on new restrictions at an extraordinary sitting on Wednesday. The Czech PM Andrej Babis commented that tighter measures were needed to prevent a catastrophe in hospitals in the coming weeks as the country battles one of the world’s highest COVID-19 infection and death rates. But not all news are grim, as Greece has announced it is in “technical” talks with the UK over allowing Britons carrying a vaccine passport to travel to its tourist hotspots from May despite concerns in Brussels and other EU capitals.
Meanwhile, the head of the European branch of the World Health Organization (WTO), Hans Kluge, urged European governments to share vaccines once they have vaccinated their health workers and risk groups, so other countries can do the same”. While 33 out of 34 high-income countries are vaccinating priority groups, only seven out of 15 upper middle-income countries are doing so and none of the poorer countries have started vaccinations. His comments came as Covax delivered on Wednesday (24 February) its first COVID-19 vaccines – 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca – to Ghana’s capital of Accra in a milestone for the ambitious programme that seeks to offset “vaccine nationalism” by wealthy countries and ensure poor ones do not wait years to start inoculating people. Later on Friday (26 February), more vaccine doses will also arrive in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Covax, run by four separate organisations including the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), aims to distribute enough vaccines over the next six months to inoculate 3% of the population of 145 countries – enough to cover health workers and some of the most vulnerable – and plans to deliver tens of millions more by the end of the year.

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