🇪🇺 The divided progress: The vaccination campaign in the European Union


The Story

Progress in vaccination against the coronavirus in the European Union

Progress is fine. 

First, a look at the USA. There is a lot of media coverage about the sluggish vaccination campaign there. As a result, daily case counts hovering around 160,000, colleges are moving classes online (in Virginia and Texas), thousands of students and teachers are in quarantine (in Arizona), hospitals are running out of intensive care beds (in Kansas), and Hawaii is turning away tourists. In Europe, the development seems to be different. More than 70 per cent of the European Union's adult population has been fully vaccinated, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Union Commission, announced some days ago. In the USA it is just 63 per cent.

Looks like a success story for the EU. 

Wait. At the beginning of the year, the European Union failed to secure adequate vaccine supplies. The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, had conducted the negotiations with the pharmaceutical manufacturers. Probably because of poorly negotiated contracts, deliveries to Europe arrived relatively late. But the catch-up process was successful, and some say that smaller and poorer countries, in particular, have benefited from the joint procurement of vaccination doses. Those countries would have struggled to acquire doses on their own if the European Commission hadn't secured vaccines. 

So a success story, after all.

Hm. Despite the joint procurement process within the European Union, the vaccination progress differs dramatically in the individual countries - far more than in the USA. With its 70 per cent mark, the European Union says it is hitting a target set at the beginning of the year. But in January, the Commission said that "by summer 2021, member states should have vaccinated a minimum of 70 per cent of the adult population." This was interpreted as meaning that EACH of the 27 EU member states should hit that target by September. That is far from reality. According to data from the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU agency, Malta has fully vaccinated over 90 per cent of its adult population, Ireland and Portugal have also immunised almost 90 per cent of their adult population, and France nearly 80 per cent. On the other end: Bulgaria has fully vaccinated just one-fifth of its adult population, and Romania about 30 per cent of adults. 

Why the big difference?

There is obviously an east-west divide (as you can see on the ECDC map). An interesting paper from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a pan-European think tank, underlines the obvious. "The lived experience of the covid-19 pandemic has split Europe just as the euro and refugee crises did, with the south and the east feeling much more badly affected than the north and the west", they write. The difference in vaccination rates is not because of the distribution of the vaccine doses. The doses were evenly distributed in Europe. Rather, it is so - the ECFR says - that misinformation, distrust of the authorities, and ignorance about the benefits of inoculation are the main reasons behind the low uptake in Central and Eastern Europe. 

Where does it come from?

From the past. Anti-vaccine sentiment in Eastern and Central Europe is rooted in a deep mistrust of state institutions. And it is these institutions that have taken responsibility to push for a nationwide inoculation campaign. If you don't trust institutions, you may not trust the efficacy and safety of the shots. Again the ECFR-paper: "Europeans are divided over what they believe to be governments' motivations behind restrictions: the Trustful have faith in governments; the Suspicious believe rulers want to cover up failings; the Accusers think governments are trying to increase their control over people."

Get me the shot.

If it's a vaccine, you are welcome. And necessary. It’s becoming more and more evident that the vaccination rate urgently needs to be increased. The lack of trust in institutions is fatal: Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union and has the bloc's highest death rate. So far, Europe has recorded around 1.3 million coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began. Hans Kluge, Europe director of the World Health Organization (WHO), said some days ago, "one reliable projection is expecting 236,000 deaths in Europe, by December 1."