Europe Has Finally Turned a Corner on Covid-19 Vaccinations
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s long-awaited Covid-19 shot surge is finally here, raising hopes the continent can bring the pandemic under control and reopen economies faster than expected.
The inflection point came this month, with Germany nearly doubling the pace of vaccinations after an increase in supplies and the decision to let general practitioners administer doses in their regular offices. France, Italy and Spain are following a similar trajectory.
The bloc has had to overcome multiple hurdles, including delays to vaccine deliveries from AstraZeneca Plc and health concerns because of a blood clot risk associated with some shots. Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson halted deliveries of its vaccine, but reversed course on Tuesday after the EU’s drug regulator said the benefits outweigh the risks.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the decision was “good news for the roll-out of vaccination campaigns across the EU.” Late on Tuesday, Italy endorsed the use of the J&J vaccine for adults, recommending that it be administered to people over 60 or those who need priority protection because of a serious health condition. Across much of Europe, age restrictions have been placed on the AstraZeneca shot.
The improvement in the pace of inoculations is a welcome development for EU governments after a first quarter marked by a stuttering campaign that left the bloc lagging behind the U.K. and the U.S. The continent was also hit with a fresh wave of the virus, pushing countries to reintroduce stricter lockdown measures.
Now, with people getting their shots faster, the bloc should be able to finally get past the contentious open-and-close cycle of lockdowns and get economies motoring along safely again.
“This is a reminder of the importance of looking beyond the headline comparisons to understand the dynamics,” said Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “The real challenge will be how to maintain momentum as we get to relatively high coverage rates, especially if, when cases fall over the summer, people become complacent.”
The EU vaccination pickup is fueling optimism among politicians, health officials and investors. The euro has risen about 2.5% this month after declining through the first quarter, and there are signs of optimism about the economy in bond markets too.
If the new vaccine pace is maintained, that will set up the European Commission to deliver a brighter outlook when it publishes new economic forecasts early next month. In its last projections, it said the 2021 recovery would be slower than previously anticipated.
The EU’s vaccine program is benefiting from faster production by the Pfizer Inc./BioNTech SE alliance, which now plans to deliver 600 million doses to the bloc this year. Pfizer is also bringing forward the timing of some deliveries to this quarter.
The EU rollout could get another jolt if CureVac NV’s vaccine candidate gets approved soon, since many of the German biotech company’s 300 million planned doses for this year would stay on the continent.
The CureVac evaluation by the European Medicines Agency could take place by the end of May, Nicola Magrini, director general of Italy’s drug agency, said on Radio24 on Wednesday.
But the positive impact of this growing supply of messenger-RNA shots may be blunted if countries refuse to use -- either in part or in full -- the vaccines from AstraZeneca and J&J. The rollout of those shots has been hobbled by concerns about the rare form of sometimes fatal blood clotting. A number of countries have already stopped using Astra’s shot on some age groups.
Without those doses, Europe probably won’t be able to achieve a target of vaccinating 70% of its population by the end of September, according Airfinity Ltd., a London-based research firm.
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