European Nations–Among The Most Vaccine-Skeptical In The World–Are Hitting Key Inoculation Targets

Topline

Despite several early stutters due to supply issues and vaccine skepticism across parts of the bloc, the European Union rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has continued to gather steam with more than 46% of all adults in the region having received at least one dose, but progress in other vaccine-skeptical countries, like Japan and South Africa, remains slow.

Key Facts

France—which among the most vaccine-skeptical nations in the bloc and globally—has seen nearly half its population receive at least one shot while the country’s “third wave” of infections has continued to decline sharply.

According to a survey published in February, nearly four in ten people in France said they definitely or probably won’t get vaccinated against Covid-19.  

Several other major European nations like Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Austria are either nearing 50% vaccine uptake or have already crossed it according to the bloc’s official tracker.

A large part of the vaccine hesitancy in Europe was based on reports of rare blood clots being caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine—whose uptake in the region has been less than a third of the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine.

Researchers have pinned historic vaccine hesitancy in the bloc to a mix of factors, including previous public health scandals, access to shots, low trust of vaccines among wealthier nations, and distrust in governments.

Big Number

249 million. That’s the total number of vaccine doses that have been administered so far across the European Union according to the bloc’s official tracker. In total, the EU has distributed 283 million vaccine doses so far of which only 55.5 million are the AstraZeneca vaccine while 185 million are Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA shots. The bloc has also distributed 27.5 doses of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine.

Tangent

While France may have managed to somewhat overcome high vaccine skepticism the rollout in other vaccine-hesitant nations remains sluggish. According to an Ipsos poll published earlier this year, only 42% of Russians said they plan to get a Covid-19 vaccine when available. According to Bloomberg’s vaccination tracker, just 9.5% of the country’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Other vaccine skeptical countries like South Africa and Japan have also struggled with their rollouts with just 1.6% of South Africa’s population getting at least one dose, while only 7.7% of Japanese people have received the same. However, the vaccine rollout in these three countries has been affected by other major issues. Both Russia and South Africa have struggled to either produce or acquire adequate supplies, while Japan has faced several logistical and manpower hurdles.

Key Background

Back in April, the World Health Organisation derided the sluggish rollout of vaccines in Europe and warned that lack of action will only serve to prolong the pandemic. At the time, the continent was gripped by another surge in Covid-19 cases driven primarily by the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. France, which has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the EU, was forced to go into lockdown once again as similar actions were being mulled by other nations. However, internally, the EU’s leadership was confident that they would be able to have enough vaccines to inoculate a majority of their population by the end of June. According to a Bloomberg report published in April, an internal EU document noted that Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands would be able to vaccinate nearly 60% of their total population by the end of June. According to its publicly stated goal, the EU has said it plans to inoculate at least 70% of its adult population—which is between 55-60% of the total population for each member state—by the end of the summer. EU Commissioner Thierry Breton—who is leading the bloc’s efforts to scale up production—even said the EU will have enough doses to reach herd immunity by July 14. While the goal appeared very ambitious at the time, the current pace of vaccinations may allow the bloc to meet that target.

Further Reading

Canada and Europe Seek to Boost Vaccine Access After Troubled Rollouts (Wall Street Journal)

France’s vaccine-skepticism is making its Covid immunization drive much harder (CNBC)

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