THE ROLLOUT of coronavirus vaccines in the European Union had a troubled start. Bigger countries negotiated their own supplies quickly, but smaller ones did not. A centralised commission was set up in June 2020, with the task of procuring jabs for 450m people, but it agonised over the cost and wasted time on haggling. The European Medicines Agency was slower than regulators elsewhere to approve the new vaccines; politicians then questioned their efficacy and safety, exacerbating already high levels of vaccine hesitancy in some countries. Uptake was slow as a result. Britain vaccinated 10% of its population with a first dose by January 25th. America reached that milestone by February 10th. The EU took until March 24th.
The EU is making up for lost time: its vaccination programme has accelerated every month since. It is now jabbing people at roughly double the rate of America. By June 22nd about 0.8% of the population in the 27 member countries was being jabbed every day, compared with less than 0.4% in America and 1.2% in Canada (see chart). If that trend continues, by July 14th more doses will have been administered per person in the EU than in the United States. EU countries will have delivered an average of one dose per person shortly thereafter (some will have received two; others, especially children, none). Britain, meanwhile, jabbing 0.6% of its population every day, remains a leader in terms of doses per person.
While the EU has sped up, America has slowed down. On June 22nd President Joe Biden said that the country would probably fall short of its target of giving at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 70% of adults by July 4th. Jeffrey Zients, a White House adviser, suggested that was because younger people were not booking appointments to get it. In fact, it may be because vaccine scepticism is high. In a recent survey of Americans conducted by YouGov and The Economist, around 17% of respondents said they were not planning to get any jab.
That may mean that those Americans who want the vaccine have already had it. Data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention indicate, for instance, that more than twice as many doses per person have been administered in Vermont as in Mississippi. Oklahoma has dispensed just 0.8 jabs per person and, by June 15th, was vaccinating just 0.1% of its population daily. It is one of several states that have stopped requesting more doses.
Vaccine projections, including The Economist’s, are highly uncertain. Our underlying model straightforwardly assumes countries will continue vaccinating as they currently are, accelerating or decelerating based on recent trends, and slowing down as more are inoculated. Those assumptions may be incorrect, and rollouts may proceed even better than expected or be adversely affected by supply.
All the same, the EU’s gain in momentum is better late than never. The more dangerous delta variant, already dominant in countries including Britain and Canada, has started spreading in continental Europe, too. Studies show that existing vaccines, including those made by AstraZeneca and by Pfizer and BioNTech, are still effective against the mutation, but that a second dose is crucial. The EU, and others, must finish what they have started.