BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union has achieved a major goal of providing at least one coronavirus shot to 70% of adults across the 27-nation bloc but member countries must step up their vaccination rates to combat fast-spreading variants of the disease, the EU’s chief executive warned Tuesday.
The EU — home to around 450 million people — was widely criticized for the slow pace of its vaccine rollout early this year. Its executive branch, the European Commission, was tasked with sealing vaccine contracts for member countries and it is desperate to show it now has things under control.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that as well as meeting the first-shot goal, 57% of adults across the bloc are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The 70% figure is an arbitrary target and does not correspond to any scientific immunity benchmark.
“These figures put Europe among the world leaders” when it comes to vaccination rates, von der Leyen said in a statement. “The catch-up process has been very successful.”
But she warned against complacency given the well-established presence in Europe of other variants.
“The delta variant is very dangerous. I therefore call on everyone — who has the opportunity — to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others,” von der Leyen said. European medical authorities insist that full vaccination is, so far, the best protection against such variants.
The commission believes that enough doses have already been delivered across the bloc to ensure that 70% of adults can be fully vaccinated, but some countries are moving too slowly. Bulgaria and Romania notably have the lowest vaccination rates.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 68% of adults in the 27 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have received their first shot, while 53.7% of the roughly 400 million adults in the 31 countries are fully vaccinated.
That compares with one shot administered to around 69% of Americans over 18, with 60% of an estimated adult population of about 250 million people fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The United States is on an EU safe-traveler list of over 20 countries. EU member states are supposed to ease travel restrictions for Americans, but access can vary from country to country and is very confusing for tourists. Brussels remains concerned that the Biden administration is not reciprocating.
“There is a strong case for the U.S. to open to travelers from Europe,” commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said. An EU-U.S. working group met earlier this month to discuss the problem, but no date has been set for a new round of talks.