Though the aggressive respiratory virus has reached 28 million cases in Europe, rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been less than ideal. The United Kingdom was the first country to begin immunising its citizens, and the rest of Europe followed as supplies became available. Uptake outside of the UK remains variable, however.
Coupled with low vaccine supply, hesitancy about vaccine safety has stymied progress. Only 36% of the surveyed Europeans agree that the vaccines are safe. Inconsistent messaging on AstraZeneca’s vaccine — temporarily suspended last month— may have compounded the public’s fear. Many Europeans are sceptical specifically of the shot’s effectiveness for people 65 years or older, despite health care officials debunking their claims.
The rising tide of vaccine hesitancy seen over recent years comes at the worst possible time. In France, Germany and Italy, lockdowns and precautions are being renewed as cases spike once again. Europe has already lost nearly 1 million people to COVID-19.
Data on COVID-19 vaccines bolsters the case for widespread inoculation.
Four studies, from Israel, the UK and Scotland, confirm the efficacy and safety of vaccines, as well as indicating significantly reduced transmission of the virus. Real-world data also demonstrate the vaccine’s ability to protect people against leading variants across the world. Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency has partnered with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to monitor vaccination impact and effectiveness and to detect safety signals.
While the research is encouraging, Europe remains a long way from being able to relax social measures and return to “normal.”
Immunisation saves millions of lives every year. But this year, World Immunization Week’s message that “vaccines bring us closer” couldn’t be more on point. Public health organisations like the WHO, as well as patient advocacy groups across Europe, can play a critical role in sharing data on COVID-19 vaccines that clears up misinformation and empowers more people to get vaccinated.
As the global community fights to move beyond COVID-19, vaccinations will help nations and communities heal and ultimately, can bring people back together, face-to-face once again.