Brussels, 31 August 2021 (dpa/MIA) — The European Union hit its initial target for mass vaccinations against Covid-19 in a major symbolic milestone, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Tuesday.
“Seventy percent of adults in the EU are now fully vaccinated. And that is more than 250 million people,” von der Leyen said in a short video statement heralding the “the great achievement.”
“But the pandemic is not over and we must remain vigilant,” the EU executive branch chief said, calling on more Europeans to get vaccinated quickly “to avoid a new wave of infections and to stop the emergence of new variants.”
The bloc also needs to help other countries vaccinate, she added, “because we will only end this pandemic if we defeat it in every corner of the globe.”
The EU’s vaccination campaign began in the final days of 2020, with the commission aiming to see 70 percent of those aged 18 and older inoculated by late September. The European Commission hasn’t set another goal beyond this initial target, but has made clear it wants to keep going to pursue the highest possible level of group protection.
Despite sealing deals with pharmaceutical manufacturers at roughly the same time as other major economies like the United States and Britain, the EU got off to a comparatively slow start.
The bloc was initially beset by a string of production bottlenecks and delivery hiccups. Some member states were also slow in getting going with vaccinations.
But the EU has now overtaken the US.
Comparisons can be tricky, since the US measures jabs in terms of the general population, while the EU has focused on adults. However, even by that standard, a higher percentage of the general population is fully vaccinated, with 52 percent in the US, figures from Oxford University’s Our World in Data project show, in contrast to 56 percent in the EU, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Behind the strong average EU headline figures, there is still a worrying discrepancy in vaccination rates among the EU’s 27 member states.
In Bulgaria, only around one in five adults has been fully vaccinated, ECDC figures indicate, compared to more than four out of five in Ireland.
As the bloc’s vaccination campaign gathered steam and many member states pursued the easing of restrictions on personal freedoms, voices have also grown louder to share vaccines more equitably worldwide.
While 40 percent of the global population has received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, that rate is just 1.6 percent in lower income countries, according to Our World in Data.
African leaders and and the World Health Organization have repeatedly called on vaccine frontrunners to address this major imbalance.