The EU on Tuesday (27 July) said it had reached its target of giving 70% of adults at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, though with only 57% of adults fully jabbed, the WHO says Europe is still “far from out of the woods” when it comes to ending the pandemic.
Europe has met its July vaccine target, putting it “among the world leaders” when it comes to its vaccine roll-out, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement to mark the bloc hitting the self-imposed 70% first dose target it set itself in January.
After a rough start to its vaccine roll-out, plagued by supply, production and distribution problems, Europe’s vaccination campaign has since picked up the speed. At the beginning of July, member states had received enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult population.
An EU spokesperson told EURACTIV that the Commission is now aiming for its next target of giving 70% of the adult population both shots.
Having both doses is more important than ever as the more contagious Delta variant now makes up the majority of cases in the EU, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement on 14 July.
Delta stalks the bloc
The Delta variant is expected to become a globally dominant strain over the coming months and has already been identified in almost all European countries. Between 28 June and 11 July, the variant was dominant in 19 countries in Europe, making up 68.3% of cases on average.
“The Delta variant is very dangerous. I therefore call on everyone who has the opportunity to be vaccinated for their own health and to protect others,” said von der Leyen.
Case numbers have been rising across Europe every week for the past four weeks, prompting Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO/Europe’s Regional Director to comment that “we are far from out of the woods in terms of the pandemic ending.”
Kluge said that as Delta cases are growing the “tremendous efforts by the member states to vaccinate people across the region” cannot prevent millions of unvaccinated people from ending up in hospitals.
“The good news is that the data clearly shows that receiving a full vaccination series significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and death. When called to do so, people should get vaccinated,” Kluge added.
Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director, said that the way to prevent the spread of the virus is by “getting a full course of vaccination as soon as the opportunity arises and maintaining physical distancing, washing hands, avoiding crowded spaces, and wearing a mask when necessary.”
Vaccine hesitancy is standing in a way of reaching the goals
Vaccine hesitancy is fast overtaking supply issues as the limiting factor in the EU’s vaccine roll-out. In Belgium, for example, almost 50% of unvaccinated citizens do not intend to ever get jabbed, according to a study published by research group iCense on Monday (26 July). Participants put their decision down to fear of side effects and mistrust of the media.
A spokesperson said the EU is now prioritising vaccine confidence, helping member states with information and communication campaigns. EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides is also touring several states offering political support to ensure vaccination targets are reached.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]