Europes slow start: How many people have had the Covid vaccine?

Author : alavolapagol
Publish Date : 2021-01-11 23:21:52

Europes slow start: How many people have had the Covid vaccine?

Member states decide individually who to vaccinate, when and where, but the EU is coordinating strategy and buying vaccines in bulk. On Friday, the EU Commission agreed to buy an extra 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - that would give the EU nearly half of the firm's global output for 2021.

BBC reporters in seven European capitals explain how the vaccinations are going on their patch.

The fact it was German scientists who developed the first effective Covid vaccine has been the source of great national pride. And, by and large, Germans appear to be reasonably comfortable with the idea of immunisation.

A recent survey found 65% were prepared to have the vaccine. Other research indicates that less than a quarter of those surveyed would not. But politically - and perhaps unsurprisingly, given this is an election year - Germany's vaccination programme has become a battleground.

Vaccinations began here just under two weeks ago and prioritise the over 80s and care home workers. By Thursday evening, more than 477,000 first doses had been administered.

But some of the hundreds of specially prepared vaccination centres are still not in use and even the government has admitted there simply isn't enough to go around. Angela Merkel and her health minister Jens Spahn have been accused of failing to secure enough doses.

Much of the criticism has come from Mrs Merkel's own coalition partners but some within the scientific community have echoed their concerns - that Germany put European interests above its own by insisting on a joint EU procurement process. The scientists who developed the vaccine have said publicly that the EU originally turned down an offer for a further order.

Germany's share of the EU order amounts to 56 million doses. So far, 1.3 million doses have been delivered and it's thought that by the end of the month a further 2.68 million will have followed.

Mr Spahn, whose assured performance through the pandemic led some to wonder whether he might be a potential successor to Mrs Merkel, has blamed the shortage on the inability of the manufacturers of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to meet global demand.

Germany has now ordered an extra 30 million doses and, following the recent European approval of the Moderna vaccine, expects to start rolling that out next week. The government is sticking to its pledge that the vaccination programme will be complete by the end of the summer.

The Czech vaccination effort began on 27 December, when the prime minister, Andrej Babis, became the first person in the country to receive the jab. Mr Babis, who is 66, had previously questioned whether he would be eligible, as he'd had his spleen removed as a teenager.

But the country's programme has got off to a sluggish start. Mr Babis - a billionaire businessman who has been dogged by both European and Czech investigations into alleged misuse of EU funds - has lost no time venting his (figurative) spleen at the European Commission over the delay. "We believed when we contributed €12m to the European fund in November that we'd receive the vaccine," he told a newspaper this week.

The country has received 30,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. So far, it has managed to administer it to 19,918 people. The government says it is ready to roll out the jab en masse as soon as supplies arrive from the manufacturers.

It has also published a strategy, which envisages a three-stage process. The first will see targeted vaccination of high-risk groups. This will gradually give way to mass vaccination in 31 centres, using an online reservation system that will be open to all from 1 February. And the final stage will see the country's GPs deployed, hopefully to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca and other jabs, which unlike the previous two can be stored and transported at fridge temperature.

However, the timing in the original strategy document now appears optimistic. The health minister conceded this week that immunising the higher-risk groups - all health and social care staff, teachers, everyone over 65, all those with serious health conditions - will take months. GPs may not begin vaccinating young, healthy members of society until late spring, or summer.

France's boast of a big, effective state apparatus has been badly exposed by the sluggish start to the Covid vaccination programme. After the first week, when neighbouring Germany had inoculated around 250,000 people, France was on a mere 530. By Friday, the figure had gone up to 45,500 - still so small as to be statistically meaningless.

So why has it taken so long for France to put the plan into action? It is not as if the authorities did not have time to prepare. And it is certainly not a question of a lack of vaccine. In fact, more than a million Pfizer doses are already in cold storage, waiting to be used.

The primary reason for the delay seems to be the cumbersome, over-centralised nature of France's health bureaucracy. A 45-page dossier of instructions issued by the ministry in Paris had to be read and understood by staff at old people's homes.

Each recipient then had to give informed consent in a consultation with a doctor, held no less than five days before injection. The lengthy procedure is in theory to save lives - those of patients who might have an adverse reaction. But as the critics have been arguing, delay in inoculating the population is also costing lives.

Another problem in France is the high level of scepticism towards vaccination - product of a more general suspicion of government. Polls suggest as many as 58% of the public do not want to be given the jab. The effect - critics say - has been to make the government unduly cautious. When urgency was required, the authorities were reluctant to move fast for fear of galvanising the anti-vaxxers.

After President Emmanuel Macron communicated his anger at the delays at the weekend, the pace is picking up. The procedure for consent is being simplified. By the end of January, the plan is to have 500-600 vaccination centres open across the country - either in hospitals or other big public buildings.

Politically a lot is at stake. The government has already come under fire for failings in providing masks and tests. With opposition voices calling the vaccine delay a "state scandal", President Macron needs a roll-out that is fast and problem-free.

Category : news

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