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The European Union ended the first quarter of vaccination campaigns without fulfilling a single of the objectives it set. The European Commission hoped to reach March 31, having vaccinated 80% of the population over 80 and 80% of health professionals. In both cases, it fell far short of the target, with only 27% of the older population and less than half of the vaccinated health staff. The EU was also unable to meet the planned dose distribution schedule, although in this case, it was because of supply failures by AstraZeneca, which delivered 70 million fewer doses than the contractor. Brussels hopes to relaunch its campaigns this April and reach the target of 70% of the vaccinated adult population by the end of September.
Data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) show that only 27% of the population over the age of 80 received the two doses necessary to obtain immunity. According to ECDC, only four of the 27 EU members have crossed the 80% threshold (Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden) and two others (Denmark and Portugal) are about to do so. In Spain, which did not provide data to ECDC, just over a third of the population over 80 received both doses and 70% took at least one.
As for the health sector, ECDC has little data, as only 13 countries have sent information. These data indicate that 47% of health professionals have already been vaccinated and about 61% received the first dose.
The slow start of vaccination campaigns has caused concern in most Member States, mainly because of the fast pace in other parts of the planet, in particular in the USA and the United Kingdom, where 16% and 7.8% of the population, respectively , have already received two doses of the vaccine. In the EU, this figure remained at around 6% at the end of the first quarter.
“By the end of this week, 107 million doses will reach the Member States,” announced the European Commission’s deputy spokeswoman, Dana Spinant, on Thursday. The number is far from the more than 160 million doses initially planned, despite the fact that BioNTech and Moderna, two of the pharmaceutical companies contracted by the European Commission, have fulfilled the promised supplies, with 67.5 and 9.8 million, respectively. AstraZeneca, on the other hand, delivered 29.7 million, far from the almost 100 million agreed.
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The lack of doses added to the hesitation of some national authorities on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which in several countries has been restricted to certain age groups, despite the European Medicines Agency considering it safe for all ages. Finally, the combination of problems surrounding the Anglo-Swedish laboratory left the EU very far from the objectives it had set out at the beginning of the vaccination campaigns, which started on 27 December. “Of course, we all know that it could have been much faster if all the pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” lamented Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, taking stock of the campaign’s first quarter during the European summit held this week. last.
“Substantial increase in production”
Despite the initial bump, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, responsible for redirecting campaigns, considers that there is already “a substantial increase in production”. And this Wednesday he was convinced that “in mid-July we will be in a position to deliver sufficient doses to the Member States to obtain collective immunity, provided that, of course, they are injected”.
European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, highlights the forecast that deliveries “will triple in the coming months”. And he considers the goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population (365 million inhabitants) to be achievable before the end of September, that is, 255 million people. European bloc sources estimate that by the end of June, about 60% of the adult population will already be vaccinated in the four EU states with the most inhabitants (Germany, France, Italy and Spain).
The European Commission of Von der Leyen plays a large part of its credibility in the success of the campaigns, which are national, but organized in a centralized way. The Community body has taken on the task of negotiating with several pharmaceutical companies the price and number of doses for future vaccines to ensure that all Member States receive immunizers at the same time, regardless of their size or wealth.
Brussels successfully closed this first phase and made available to the States a vaccine portfolio of up to 2.3 billion doses reserved with five laboratories, of which four (BioNTech / Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen) already have the authorized product and one (Curevac) is waiting for the guarantee. The second quarter, according to the Commission, will allow a substantial increase in the pace of distribution, with 200 million doses from BioNTech / Pfizer, 55 million from Janssen and 35 million from Moderna. AstraZeneca will again default on its share and plans to deliver only 70 million of the 180 million contracted. Even so, the European Commission estimates that States will receive around 360 million doses and notes that the Janssen immunizer requires only one application to be effective, which will help to speed up the number of people vaccinated.
The Commission also recalls that the EU kept vaccine export channels open, unlike the United States and the United Kingdom. Brussels imposed an export control system at the end of January, but so far it has only stopped a shipment of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca from leaving and allowed a total of 68.3 million to be shipped to 41 countries.
Community sources also highlight the success of the vaccine developed by the German laboratory BioNTech in collaboration with the North American company Pfizer. Its product, dubbed Comirnaty, has become an essential part of vaccination campaigns in both the EU, the USA and the UK. The success of the new mRNA technology catapulted BioNTech, which in the last quarter of 2020 multiplied its turnover by 12 compared to the same quarter last year. The small company founded in 2008 could become one of the biggest European business successes of the past few years if the production and use of its vaccine are not hindered.
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