Half of Europeans vaccinated by June: the EU's most optimistic outlook
Brussels expects to receive 300 million doses in the third quarter, but at the current rate it would take three years to vaccinate 70% of citizens
BrusselsTo get back to a more pre-pandemic version of normality, authorities and experts repeat that seven out of ten people need to be immunised. This means vaccinating them twice, because two doses of the vaccines are needed. The European Commission has set the summer as a target to have vaccinated 70% of the population, however, with the few data that have been published so far, for the time being - and without new obstacles - there would only be vaccines for half of Europeans by June. However, to reach this percentage, the current rate of vaccination would have to be accelerated.
Neither the dose distribution schedules that the pharmaceutical companies have committed to, nor the contracts they have signed with the European institutions, are public. And if to this opacity we add the consequences that the geopolitical race for the vaccine may cause, in addition to business interests and unforeseen production and delivery, uncertainty floods (and almost drowns) any forecast.
Brussels has signed (on behalf of the 27 European governments) contracts with six pharmaceutical companies securing 1.06 billion doses of already approved vaccines and 680 million doses of vaccines such as those from Johnson & Johnson and CureVac, which are awaiting licensing. In addition, it is in exploratory talks with Novavax and Valneva for 130 million more doses. Excluding the latter, the EU could vaccinate each of its inhabitants more than three times over. But very few of these doses are already available to European governments and we are not sure when the rest will be.
The pace of vaccination
According to data released last week by the European Commission, 106 million doses of Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines will be available for the EU in the first quarter. There were 18 million in January, 33 million in February, and 55 million in March. This means that there is capacity to vaccinate 11% of the European citizenry (448 million citizens) in the first quarter.
Despite this, the EU has only vaccinated 2.5% of the population once, and 0.8% have received the second dose. According to global monitoring data tracking data used by Bloomberg, the EU vaccinates around 600,000 people every day and, if it continues at this rate, it will take more than three years to reach the target of 70% of Europeans immunised. The UK, on the other hand, has already injected a dose to 15.7% of its population. However, it has only given two doses to 0.8%, and this is one of the main criticisms, because the long-term effectiveness (and safety) of the vaccination campaign may be affected if there are problems with the second injection. According to Bloomberg's calculations, however, both the UK and the US would take less than a year to vaccinate 70% of their citizens.
The European Union is under fire because its vaccination campaign is moving at a very slow pace compared with its former member, the United Kingdom. And also the United States, Israel and even Serbia. It has publicly exposed the problems of its vaccination strategy with an open-door fight with the pharmaceutical sector, has shot itself in the foot by putting at risk the very complicated post-Brexit agreement because of the row with AstraZeneca and, to make matters worse, has acknowledged to Putin that their vaccine would not be bad for us.
In this battle, then, the European Union is not in a good global position. Brussels (and German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself) argues that it has prioritised security and citizens' rights over speed, so it remains to be seen whether, in practice, there is any chance of it all looking a little like the tale of the tortoise and the hare.
The key will be the second quarter, because the first quarter has been particularly slow and bumpy. From March to June, Brussels claims that 300 million doses of the three vaccines already in distribution will arrive, which would make it possible to immunise more than 30% of European citizens. In addition, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be authorized in April and can distribute about 80 million doses. This vaccine only requires a single dose; it would therefore mean that an additional 80 million people could be immunised. If there were absolute absorption capacity for all these vaccines by June, and counting Johnson & Johnson's, it would be possible to vaccinate 60% of the population, which would be close to the target.
However, this would be the most optimistic horizon, and whether it becomes a reality depends on controllable factors (such as the resources, efforts and planning of each government to extend the vaccination campaign) and other more complex ones, such as the production capacity of pharmaceutical companies and the fulfilment of their commitments to the European Union, which has invested 2,700 million to buy billions of doses when they did not yet exist.