Vaccinations are picking up speed in the European Union, an amazing turnaround after the bloc’s vaccination campaign stalled for months.
On average over the past week, nearly three million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were administered daily in the European Union, a group of 27 nations, according to Our World in Data, an Oxford University database. When adjusted for population, the rate is roughly the same as the number of shots per day in the United States, where demand has declined.
The EU vaccination campaign, hampered by interruptions in supplies of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines, last month revolved around the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
Last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Pfizer had agreed to an early delivery of doses that should likely allow the bloc to meet its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer. The European Union is also about to announce a contract with Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for 2022 and 2023 that will include 1.8 billion doses for boosters, variants and children’s vaccines.
The United States acted aggressively as part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed to raise millions of doses by funding and promoting vaccine production. But the European Union has not teamed up with drug manufacturers like the US has, but more like a customer than an investor.
“I think it is overdue that the EU has stepped up its vaccination campaign,” said Beate Kampmann, director of the vaccine center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“I think with the number of deaths and new cases in the EU, it is absolutely important that we get the vaccine to the people there very, very quickly,” she added.
The rise in the EU underscores the differences in vaccination efforts around the world.
About 83 percent of Covid shots were given in high- and higher-middle-income countries, while only 0.3 percent of the doses were given in low-income countries. In North America, more than 30 percent of people have received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data. In Europe it is almost 24 percent. In Africa it is just over one percent.
Experts warn that if the virus is widespread in large parts of the world without vaccines and threatens all countries, dangerous variants will continue to evolve and spread.
Last week, the Biden government said it supported the waiver of intellectual property protection for Covid vaccines, which would have to be approved by the World Trade Organization. And even then, experts warn that drug companies around the world would need tech help to make the vaccines and time to ramp up production.
European leaders like Ms. von der Leyen and President Emmanuel Macron has made it clear that President Biden should take a different approach and instead lift the export restrictions on vaccines that the United States has used to keep most doses for domestic use. “We call on all vaccine-producing countries to allow exports and to avoid measures that disrupt the supply chain,” said Ms. von der Leyen in a speech last week.
But the matter is not so absolute, said Dr. Thomas Tsai, Professor of Health Policy at Harvard University. “What is really needed is a comprehensive approach,” he said. Giving up patents is a big long-term step, but lifting export bans would help sooner.
“There is a need to develop a broader strategy,” said Dr. Tsai to vaccinate the world. “We need the same kind of Warp Speed engagement. It’s an investment. “