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26th Sep 2021

EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer

  • Denmark is EU leader in its vaccination campaign - with nearly three percent of its citizens already receiving one dose of the vaccine (Photo: gov.bc.ca)

The European Commission announced on Tuesday (19 January) targets to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU, and the intention to set up a "common approach" for vaccine certificates before the end of the month.

Brussels wants to see at least 80 percent health and social care professionals and 80 percent of people over 80 years old vaccinated by March. But member states should also have vaccinated at least 70 percent of the adult population by the summer.

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"Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination," said commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.

Meanwhile, EU commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, told the European Parliament that certification "could reinforce the success of vaccination programs in member states" and even set "a global standard".

The eHealth Network, composed of authorities from all member states plus Norway, will define what is needed for such certificates at EU level - to include a unique identifier and a framework that ensures privacy and security.

The debate about vaccine certificates intensified last week, after the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that these certificates could facilitate travel across the bloc.

While the commission considers that it is "premature" to use these certificates for other purposes than health protection, "an EU approach may facilitate other cross-border applications of such certificates in the future," reads the commission document.

"We are taking all the precautions so we do not create any situation where people who do not want to or cannot be vaccinated would receive a different treatment or see their rights and freedoms limited," inter-institutional relations EU commissioner Maroš Sefcovic said on Monday.

Additionally, the commission called on member states to update their testing strategies, in the light of new variants of Covid-19, ramping up the use of rapid antigen tests.

These topics will be picked up by EU leaders who will meet online on Thursday.

Delivery difficulties

After BioNTech/Pfizer representatives announced last week delivery difficulties, six European health ministers wrote to the commission to express their "severe concern" over shipment delays.

These "temporary" delays are related to modifications at Pfizer's Belgian factory in Puurs necessary to increase production and meet the target of delivering two billion vaccine doses per year.

However, ministers from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden have urged the EU executive to engage with the vaccine's developers to demand a "public explanation of the situation and to stress the need to ensure stability and transparency of timely deliveries".

"National governments cannot plan for successful vaccination without [the] predictability of the vaccine delivery schedules," they wrote in a letter, in which they describe the situation as "unacceptable".

Similarly, MEPs on Tuesday demanded more clarity on distribution delays and the purchase of vaccines.

"Vaccine[s] give us the hope that we can finally start slowly imagining a return to normal life, but we risk undermining it by a lack of transparency and unnecessary delays," said the head of the liberals in the parliament, MEP Dacian Cioloş.

While welcoming the publication of the CureVac contract, the head of the left-wing party in the parliament, MEP Manon Aubry, also said her party will continue fighting to make all contracts available to the public.

"Transparency is essential to gain the trust of the population, which is essential for the vaccination strategy of member states," Left MEP Marc Botenga told EUobserver, adding that secret information and hidden contracts only give the anti-vaccine movement more ammunition.

Danish leadership

The UK tops Europe's coronavirus vaccination race, while Denmark is leading the bloc's inoculation campaign with nearly three percent of its citizens already receiving one dose of the vaccine.

The Danish strategy aims to have all adult citizens who want to receive the jab, approximately 80 percent, vaccinated by June.

Immunisation campaigns in Italy and Germany have also been notably efficient - with both countries already administering more than one million doses to their populations.

However, other European countries - such as Bulgaria and France - have seen far worse results with their vaccination programmes, with less than one percent of their population having received the first jab.

The EU has already vaccinated approximately 1.2 percent of citizens, with over five million doses.

The commission, on behalf of member states, has sealed deals with six companies for up to 2.3 billion vaccine doses.

Commission silent as Germany buys own vaccines

The European Commission refused to comment on whether a bilateral deal between Germany and BioNTech for 30 million additional vaccines is a breach of EU collective purchase agreements - which forbid member states from negotiating separate deals.

EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates

While some member states hope vaccine certificates could revive tourism, EU officials point out that it is not clear if vaccinated people can still carry the virus and infect others.

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The European Medicines Agency said that there is no urgent need to administer booster shots to the general population, pointing out that the priority now should be to vaccinate the one-third of Europeans who are not fully vaccinated.

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