by David Williams, Lin Jing
COPENHAGEN, June 2 (Xinhua) -- President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said that the European Union (EU) is making "steady progress on vaccinations" against COVID-19 as the bloc is on track to deliver enough doses to vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population by the end of July.
In contrast to the optimism about vaccine take-up, the prevailing attitude across the whole region has actually been characterized by a certain hesitancy about the vaccine.
TOWARD "HERD IMMUNITY"
Confidence in "herd immunity" is backed by 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines received by the EU and 245 million doses administered since the onset of the pandemic, which, as Von der Leyen estimated last week, would provide at least one dose to 170 million adults up until May 30, or about 46 percent of the EU's adult population.
"If we continue like this, we have confidence that we will be able to safely reopen our societies," she told journalists after a special EU summit in Brussels on May 25.
Malta, with a half million population, has seen a greater vaccine take-up than other EU countries.
More than 300,000 Maltese have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while over 180,000 people are now fully vaccinated, according to the latest data issued by Malta's health authorities.
"Malta is the first country in Europe to achieve herd immunity," said Malta's Health Minister Chris Fearne on May 24.
Britain has seen a greater willingness to be vaccinated, which has resulted in a phenomenal reduction in hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19.
The latest data from Public Health England's real-world study revealed that vaccinations had contributed to saving more than 13,200 lives and prevented more than 39,700 hospitalizations up to May 13.
WILLINGNESS GAP ON VACCINATION
However, according to a survey published on May 10 by Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, over a quarter of adults in the EU said they were "very unlikely" or "rather unlikely" to get vaccinated.
The survey also found that the main reason for the "vaccine hesitancy" was a lack of trust in the safety of vaccines.
In addition, the survey found indications of an east-west divide across the EU, with the willingness to be vaccinated standing at over 60 percent in western EU member states, except Austria and France, but much lower in eastern EU countries.
Noting there is "a need for clear political and scientific communication about vaccine safety," the survey said, "an unclear political stance about vaccines and a less than straightforward communication over their safety may have a detrimental effect on public trust in vaccines."
In France, which is experiencing a "third wave" of the pandemic, vaccinations are marked by fears of side affects and general indifference.
French authorities have been accelerating a non-compulsory vaccination campaign for weeks. President Emmanuel Macron on Monday spearheaded the drive by announcing that he has been vaccinated.
France expects to vaccinate 30 million citizens with the first dose by mid-June.
In Sweden, a discernible apathy towards the vaccine has also made the country lag far behind the EU's vaccination objective.
Immigrant population's unwillingness to be vaccinated is especially a matter of concern in Sweden. However, Swedish authorities hoped that everyone will be offered a jab by Sept. 5.
It is a different story in neighboring Finland, where the take-up of vaccinations has been less hindered by speculation, with over 40 percent of the population having received at least one dose.
Meanwhile, in the east of the EU, Romania had expected to vaccinate 5 million, or 30 percent of the population, by June 1. However, official data on Sunday showed the country only managed to administer 4,299,481 doses, equivalent to 26.8 percent of the population.
Resistance and lingering doubts about the vaccine were only partly to blame, as Romanian health authorities attributed the main reason for the slowdown of the vaccination program to the considerable number of people in the country who have developed antibodies after being infected and consequently are temporarily not in need of a vaccine.
Poland has offered an innovative solution comprised of a lottery with prizes in an effort to dispel fears and encourage vaccinations.
The Polish vaccine lottery will cost the government 140 million zloty (38 million U.S. dollars). Other prizes include hybrid cars, electric scooters and vouchers.
CHINESE VACCINES HELP WITH RECOVERY
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) validated CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac for emergency use.
CoronaVac is the second Chinese vaccine in the WHO Emergency Use Listing after the previous one developed by another Chinese manufacturer Sinopharm.
China's timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for Hungary, the first EU member to recognize and use Chinese vaccines, has protected lives of Hungarian people.
The Hungarian foreign ministry said in May that many lives were saved and the country "gained a month and a half" in vaccinations thanks to the vaccines from China as well as Russia.
"Without the Eastern vaccines, the number of vaccinated Hungarians would not have reached 4 million by last Friday, only in mid-June," said Tamas Menczer, state secretary from Hungary's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in a Facebook video.
In the Mediterranean, the island nation of Cyprus announced on May 20 that it was also adding the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to its list of approved vaccines accepted for free entry of vaccinated people into the country.
In Serbia, Chinese vaccines were praised for playing an indispensable role in fighting the pandemic in the country.
As the final batch of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine arrived at Belgrade airport last week, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic expressed gratitude for the reliability that "no one could have expected in difficult times and circumstances."
Despite the effectiveness of vaccines in the fight against COVID-19, the WHO still issued a message of caution from its European office in Copenhagen in May.
"Right now, in the face of a continued threat and new uncertainty, we need to continue to exercise caution, and rethink or avoid international travel," said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
"Vaccines may be a light at the end of the tunnel -- but we cannot be blinded by that light," said Kluge. Enditem
(Ren Ke and Pan Geping in Brussels, Chen Wenxian in Valleta, Chen Jing in Helsinki, Fu Yiming in Stockholm, Shi Zhongyu in Belgrade, Guo Mingfang in Nicosia, Jiang Xue in Bratislava, Liu Fang in Paris, Jin Jing and Zhang Jiawei in London, Zhang Zhang in Warsaw, Chen Jin in Bucharest, Yuan Liang in Budapest also contributed to the story.)