Europe: falling behind in the race to vaccinate

Europe: falling behind in the race to vaccinate

If you think America and Britain’s vaccine roll-outs got off to a slow start, said Marc Santora in The New York Times, then just look at the lamentable state of affairs in Europe. The EU’s four biggest states – Germany, France, Italy and Spain – had by last week carried out just over two-thirds of the number of vaccinations administered by Israel alone, despite having a combined population 29 times larger. Italy, Greece and others have been hit by a scarcity of needles; Spain has been hindered by a shortage of nurses; and the Netherlands and France had scarcely even begun administering the jab. Even Germany – which has carried out more vaccinations than any other EU state – had only managed to use up a fraction of its available doses. Poland’s roll-out, meanwhile, has been hit by scandal after it emerged that politicians and celebrities had received jabs before the elderly and vulnerable.

Many blame the European Commission, said Alexander Göbel in Tagesschau (Berlin). EU member states decided early on that they should shop for vaccines together, using their collective bargaining power to drive down prices. The Commission, which took charge, had soon secured two billion doses from six producers to serve the EU’s 446 million citizens; but spent less, relatively – and so has fewer options – than Britain. And when the winners of the race to develop a vaccine became clear, the EU was far too slow off the mark with regulatory approval, said Ferdinando Giugliano on Bloomberg (New York).The European Medicines Agency took an over-cautious approach. By the time it signed off on the Pfizer jab on 21 December, countries like the UK had been vaccinating people for weeks. And although it has since approved the new Moderna vaccine, the green light for the easy-to-distribute AstraZeneca jab still looks to be some weeks away.

Yet countries cannot blame the EU for all their ills, said Tamás Rónay in Népszava (Budapest). Many of the delays now are the result of distribution and other local issues: France, for instance, has a remarkably high rate of scepticism towards vaccines. To give it its due, the EU has put together one of the most diverse vaccine portfolios in the world, said Le Monde (Paris). And it has kept down prices by avoiding a race between member states for doses. EU officials are confident their strategy will be vindicated in the long term, said The Economist. But, with the pandemic raging across the continent, it’s a race against time, and the cost of delays could prove intolerably high.

 

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