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Coronavirus: EU vaccine drive picks up pace while US stalls

The European Union is now inoculating its population faster than the United States, but figures suggest that both have some way to go before they hit their previously announced inoculation targets.

People waiting in vaccine queue in Nice, France

The EU's vaccination drive is picking up speed, but disparities remain among the 27 member states

The EU's once-faltering vaccine rollout has now overtaken that of the United States, The New York Times reported on Thursday, citing figures compiled by Our World in Data.

But figuring out who is ahead in the race to protect their citizens from COVID-19 depends largely on how one crunches the numbers.

The US newspaper pointed to data released on Thursday showing that the bloc had administered 103.32 doses per 100 people, compared to 102.67 in the United States.

It shows that the EU's vaccination drive has certainly picked up pace after initially being hindered by supply and distribution problems.

What is the overall picture of the vaccination drive?

Our World in Data's figures, however, show the bloc is still slightly behind the United States when it comes to the percentage of adults who have had both jabs.

Watch video 01:26

How effective are vaccines against variants?

US authorities have fully vaccinated 48.9% of those eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, while the EU has fully vaccinated 47.7%.

Furthermore, there are disparities among EU countries in terms of the pace of their rollouts, further complicating the overall picture.

Germany has fully vaccinated 50.6% of those eligible for a jab, while Bulgaria has managed just 14.6%.

Despite the apparent speeding up of the EU's inoculation program, many countries are also worried about uptake among young people.

Several countries have introduced so-called vaccine passports that will be mandatory to enter bars, restaurants and cultural events.

What was the EU's target?

The EU's stated vaccination goal has changed over the past six months.

According to a statement posted on the European Commission website in January, the original plan was to ensure that "by summer 2021, member states should have vaccinated 70% of the entire adult population."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 10 that the EU executive had delivered enough doses to EU governments "to vaccinate fully at least 70% of EU adults still this month."

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen speaking at a press conference in Prague in July 2021.

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said the EU had hit its vaccination target

On Tuesday, von der Leyen said 70% of adults across the bloc's 27 countries had received at least one dose. But figures compiled by Our World in Data put the number at 58.3%. 

The numbers cited by von der Leyen appear to refer to the EU's official tally.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control COVID-19 vaccine tracker, 70.4% of adults across the EU have received at least one dose.

What about the United States?

The United States failed to meet President Joe Biden's goal to deliver at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to 70% of adults by July 4.

Watch video 00:17

Biden: 'It's a pandemic of the unvaccinated'

Our World in Data says 56.7% of the US population has had at least one jab; inoculations are handled at state level.

For coronavirus, the estimated threshold for herd immunity is roughly 70% "to go back to a pre-pandemic lifestyle," a paper by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in April.

"We would need at least 70% of the population to be immune [achieve herd immunity] to keep the rate of infection down," the paper said.

Herd immunity can be achieved through vaccinations or by falling sick and building up sufficient antibodies to fight off future infections.

It means both the United States and the European Union are still short of achieving that goal. 

Late on Thursday, Biden expressed his concern about the pace of the rollout.

He called on state and local governments to provide $100 (€85) payments to incentivize Americans to receive both doses of a coronavirus vaccine. 

jf/sri (AP, Reuters)

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