EU plans massive vaccination campaign in Eastern Europe

An EU source told EURACTIV that the EU executive is preparing an awareness campaign in the form of videos to stress the need for vaccination. It will be adjusted to the needs and particularities of eastern Europe. [Shutterstock/BERMIX STUDIO]

**This article has been updated to reflect the EU Council’s change of position regarding the COVID recovery certificate.

In close coordination with governments in eastern and southeastern Europe, the European Commission is currently preparing massive awareness campaigns over the need to get vaccinated, has learnt. In addition, more drugs to tackle COVID-19 are expected to be approved this week amid new tensions following a decision that even vaccinated journalists will need a negative PCR test to take part in the EU Council later this week. EURACTIV has all the details.

An EU source told EURACTIV that the EU executive is preparing an awareness campaign in the form of videos to stress the need for vaccination. It will be adjusted to the needs and particularities of eastern Europe.

The source said the project is still in the early stages, but Brussels emphasises its importance considering that the vaccination gap between eastern and western Europe remains significant. 

According to ECDC, eastern and southeastern EU member states’ vaccination rate remains well below the EU average (66.9% of the total population vaccinated). “We cannot go on like this. If eastern Europe does not speed up, we will never put an end to the pandemic,” the source said. 

The figures are particularly disappointing in states like Bulgaria and Romania, where just 26.9% and 39% of the total population have been vaccinated. 

According to the draft conclusion of a summit later this week, EU leaders are careful with the wording regarding the discussion over mandatory vaccination. 

Last week, Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas told EURACTIV that the summit would be an “opportunity” for leaders to discuss the matter.

“The European Council reiterates the vital importance of vaccination in the fight against the pandemic. Rolling out vaccination to all and deploying booster doses are crucial. In that context, overcoming vaccine hesitancy, including by addressing disinformation, remains key,” the draft conclusions read. 

The EU source said that the approach would be either the “Austrian way” with the imposition of mandatory vaccination and fines or similar to the Italian way with the “Super COVID Pass”, which makes the day-to-day lives of the unvaccinated challenging. 

Also read: UK ‘turbocharges’ booster vaccination as Omicron becomes dominant

According to the conclusions, the EU Council also calls for the speedy implementation of the revised Council recommendations on travel within and to the EU, including the validity of vaccination certificates. 

EURACTIV was informed that for a COVID certificate to be valid for travel, a third dose should be taken within nine months from the last dose. The measure will apply as of February 2022. 

EU COVID pass not valid for EU summits

And while EU leaders are expected to touch upon the issue of mandatory vaccination, a decision by the EU Council media services not to accept the EU COVID certificate for journalists participating in the 16-17 December EU Summit has caused anger. 

In the run-up to two high-level meetings in Brussels – a reunion of bloc leaders on Thursday (16 December), as well as a summit with their counterparts from the Eastern neighbourhood the day before – the EU Council press team told all accredited media representatives they must fulfil one of the following conditions:

“To have had a negative PCR test, taken as close as possible to the meetings dates and no more than 48 hours before the start of the meeting,” the institution told journalists via email.

This practically means that the COVID certificate of even fully vaccinated journalists will not be recognised. 

Alternatively, reporters could choose “to have obtained a certificate by a medical doctor stating that the person has recovered from COVID-19 within a timespan of maximum six months.”

Asked by EURACTIV if an EU recovery certificate instead of one issued by an unspecified doctor would qualify, the press team said: “you would still need a PCR negative test.”

However, the Council later backtracked, stating the EU recovery certificate will be accepted at the summits after all.

New COVID-19 drugs to be approved this week

Meanwhile, an EU source told that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to approve more drugs to tackle COVID-19. 

The EMA has approved four drugs, another four have been submitted for marketing authorisation, and one is currently under rolling review. 

But the EU source made it clear that citizens should not rely on drugs. “The primary priority remains to get vaccinated”, the source said. 

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | Vlagyiszlav Makszimov |

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