Europe facing the specter of a scattered vaccination

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The United States will have vaccinated its entire population by the end of May. The United Kingdom has already injected a first dose to more than 20 million people. Yet the EU has painfully passed the 29 million doses used for a population of 443 million. Is the beautiful community mechanism based on the joint purchase of vaccines and production for 27 dead?

Who is dissociating himself?

Europe is lagging behind. Admittedly, Ursula von der Leyen maintains that vaccination is not a sprint but “a marathon”, and the Commission remains convinced: things will soon improve and the deliveries of vaccines in April should be a game-changer. The fact remains that this speech is less and less convincing.

On Tuesday, it was Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who got his feet wet, deeming the whole process “too slow” and announcing a future partnership with Israel to speed up vaccine production. Denmark also joins in. For their part, in addition to European orders, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have already turned to the Russian vaccine. Budapest has even added doses from China to its vaccine arsenal.

Who vaccinates the most?

Ursula von der Leyen said on February 26 that 50 million doses had been delivered so far in the EU, and only 29 million used. In the Member States, a glance at the proportion of inhabitants who received two doses reveals that Malta vaccinates the most, followed by Denmark, Poland and Greece. But it is the States which themselves have defined the vaccination method and the priority groups. The Commission has had no say in internal logistics issues.

End of February, 4.8% of the inhabitants of the European Union had received at least a first injection of vaccine. Among the most populous countries, Spain reaches 5%, Germany 4.9%, Italy 4.8%. France is slightly below the continental average with 4.4%. Compared to its neighbors, Switzerland is positioned slightly above with some 6.3% of its inhabitants having received at least one dose.

Why is vaccination so slow?

Vaccination in the EU began on December 26, more than three weeks after the British campaign. Contracts with manufacturers were also signed later because it was necessary to agree to 27, find a mix of vaccines for all budgets, then negotiate the responsibility of the manufacturers.

But the European vaccine plan, which involves the acquisition of 2.3 billion doses for 2021, has encountered other pitfalls. The French Sanofi announced that it would not have vaccines in 2021. Pfizer / BioNTech had some delays, which have since been resolved. But it is especially the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca which put the block in difficulty in the first quarter, committing to 39 million doses against the 80 initially planned.

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If the problem has still not been resolved, the Commission seems to have dropped some ballast after the passing of arms on contracts and quarreling with London on the export of vaccines. Paradox: some member states continue to believe that AstraZeneca is to date the only supplier that does not honor its contract, but this vaccine itself does not seem to find a buyer. Switzerland has still not approved it. In France, only 25% of the doses received have been used, the others remaining in the fridge. AstraZeneca is in any case part of the European target of 70% vaccinated. Without him, it’s impossible to keep up.

Another major issue: the very concrete production problems, as raised by Vienna and Copenhagen, because the 41 European production sites do not provide enough doses. Ursula von der Leyen has commissioned her commissioner Thierry Breton to see how to speed up the pace, but the first results are not expected in the short term.

What reasons to hope?

Governments are banking on a change in perception vis-à-vis AstraZeneca and the use of this vaccine for people over 65, initially not recommended, should expand. On March 11, the European Medicines Agency is also expected to validate Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine – the EU will then have four vaccines on the market. “In April, the bulk of deliveries will arrive and things will be better; it’s painful but we still have a difficult month to go, ”assures a European source.

According to the Commission, the Twenty-Seven should even receive a total of 300 million doses for the second quarter of 2021. The Commission is also probing the Member States on the accelerated procedures for authorizing vaccines while the European procedure takes a few more weeks . “The UK has gone for risk. It pays, so much the better for them, but it could also have been a failure, ”continues this source, not sure that this risk culture is present enough in the EU to be assumed.

Soon the vaccine passport?

Is it because she is sure that the vaccination will intensify that Ursula von der Leyen is already preparing for the summer? The president promised for March 17 legislation on the vaccine passport, a common digital certificate that will allow a “gradual return” to free movement.

The Commission which, last week, criticized the border controls carried out by Berlin thus seems to record the end of the free movement “in the old way” and seems ready to develop a vaccine passport which will condition the movements. For Switzerland, a member of the Schengen area, this new legislation will have to be watched closely. Officially, this certificate will also cover people who have not been vaccinated but who may present a negative PCR or antigen test. Will this document thus confer additional rights on certain Europeans and not on others? The debate has only just begun.