First was the fear of running out of enough doses amid savage international competition for the first coronavirus vaccine to prove effective. Then, the fear that vaccines would not reach the countries. Then came the news that the 450-million-people region obtained contracts with a range of suppliers for over two billion vaccine doses and aimed to inoculate all the adults during 2021.
That everyone quips now that the coronavirus vaccines are too few and too late. Well, the first doses of the vaccine have already reached Europe. The problem now is to put them. A week after the general vaccination campaign began in the European Union, countries are barely meeting the expectations calculated in vaccination plans.
European countries have already received close to 12 million doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, of which only a small percentage have been inoculated. Logistical problems, lack of personnel, slowness of the health authorities, lack of foresight regarding the management of transport or refrigeration, or even confusion due to public holidays have undermined European efforts to advance the vaccination of the population, which are currently placed far behind other countries, from the US to Israel or even the United Kingdom.
"We thought the problem was in Spain, but the data is almost generalized at the European level. Right now, it is not a lack of distribution, but rather there are no means or organizational capacity. Initially, there were logistical problems with the supply of Pfizer in eight countries [including Spain], but there are already enough doses to start with the planned daily vaccinations, and it is not being done", says Cristian Castillo, an expert in logistics and professor of the Master's degree in City and Urbanism at the UOC.
With few exceptions, during this first week of the campaign, European countries have not been able to inoculate a large part of the vaccines received within the Pfizer vaccine distribution plan organized by the European Union.
Coronavirus Vaccination in Germany
Germany is the country that has managed to distribute the most vaccines, 265,000, but that is only just over 20% of the 1.3 million it received until December (with 0.23 out of every 100 people vaccinated), and Denmark (40,541 until this Sunday) is the one with the highest percentage of the population vaccinated with the first dose, 0.78 per 100 people, and meeting objectives: they are 88.5% of the people registered in the first phase of the vaccination plan.
Vaccination Problems in France and Others
In the worst-case scenario is France, which in the first six days of the campaign had injected barely 516 doses (of the 500,000 received until the end of December). The criticisms have not been long in coming, and the president himself, Emmanuel Macron, has affirmed to feel "very disappointed" with the vaccination plan (of his government). Vaccination in France "started very slowly," and the low number of people inoculated is "difficult to defend" compared to its European neighbors, the French National Academy of Medicine admitted in a statement. But it is not the only one: Ireland has just injected 1,800 doses. Greece has 3,000, Hungary has 5,100, and Austria has 6,000. The Netherlands, which received the first shipment of vaccines from Pfizer at the end of December, has not even started vaccination due to the computer system problems and a delay in coordinating the vaccination plan.
Vaccination in Italy
Italy has so far vaccinated just over 118,000 people (0.19% of the total population) of the 470,000 doses received (25%), but the gulf is between the regions. Lombardy, still the epicenter of the epidemic in Italy with one in four cases of covid in the country, has barely inoculated 3% of its stocks.
Spain is placed in the middle of the European table, according to the data published this Monday by the Autonomous Communities and the Ministry of Health. Of the 370,000 doses received (in the first week), at least 91,718 would have been injected, 24.5%. If those distributed among the communities this Monday are counted, the percentage injected is a little lower, between 11% and 12%. But, like Italy, the efficiency in the delivery of the vaccine has been very uneven. While Asturias has already inoculated 80% of the vaccines that corresponded to it in the first week, Madrid or Cantabria have lagged far behind (6% and 4% respectively), according to the data provided by the CCAA themselves.
Meanwhile, and after the push of Pfizer's production to try to avoid bottlenecks in the supply, the vaccines continue arriving, accumulating the "pending tasks" in terms of the number of doses to administer. The various European national authorities have been quick to quell growing concern over the vaccination campaigns' slowness, promising to pick up the pace amid cross-accusations of both supply and distribution.
"The Ministry [of Federal Health] has had months to prepare the start of vaccinations, " criticized the Social Democratic opposition in Germany in the 'Rheinische Post'. But "it will be difficult to catch up [with the vaccination]. Although there may indeed be certain delays in the first weeks due to organizational issues, what has become clear is that many more efforts are needed, more hands," says Castillo. "It is very important that the logistics chain be honest with itself and see if it is capable of inoculating at the rate. The more delay there is, the more demanding it is to maintain the vaccines", adds the expert.
Although also below initial expectations and with logistical problems, the United States has already vaccinated 4.23 million people (1.28 people out of 100) with the first dose. The United Kingdom, which began its vaccination campaign two weeks before most EU countries, has already exceeded one million vaccinated (1.39 out of 100) and is waiting, after the approval of the distribution of the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which does not need a cold chain as complex as Pfizer's version, to be able to vaccinate two million people each week. Above its initial expectations is Israel, which has inoculated with the first dose already 10% of its population against the corona virus.
Just for comparison, on January 3 (Sunday) Denmark vaccinated just two people; on his best day, he vaccinated 6,900. With a similar population (nine million versus six), Israel is vaccinating at rates of more than 150,000 people a day. Even if France tried to catch up to meet Prime Minister Jean Castex's promises that a million people would be vaccinated by the end of January, with the limping start of their campaign, they would have to vaccinate more than 32,000 people every day, and it would continue. Following harsh criticism, France has promised to begin vaccinating 77,000 people a day.
"There have been problems in terms of having personnel available to administer these corona virüs vaccines, with collapsed hospitals and the same personnel who are treating the sick, seeing that they also had to administer the vaccines," says the UOC logistics expert. Other failures around Europe include problems in the supply of refrigerators (the closure of the border with the United Kingdom closed the supply, affecting, for example, according to the Catalan authorities, the distribution process between the centers to be vaccinated) or bureaucratic problems and lack of forecast on how to deliver the necessary vaccines, but not more than those to be inoculated that day, to avoid problems in the cold chain. In different countries, some have justified delays that have coincided with the Christmas holidays, when the target population for vaccines, such as those over 60 years of age, in many cases have moved to other areas of the country with their families. Most vaccination plans were intended to start in January, and the advancement of the European campaign at the end of December would have caught some countries off the hook. "If advancing it by a week has caused [vaccination forecasts] to fail, it is because it had not been prepared in the best possible way," says Castillo.
And, unless the problems discovered in this initial phase are remedied, the following will not be easier: in most European countries, the first to receive the vaccine have been health workers and risk groups such as the elderly in hospitals in residences. In other words, one of the most manageable groups to reach and manage in a vaccination campaign.
No vaccines in the country of anti-vaccines
The greatest example of "fiasco" (in the words of a former adviser to the French Ministry of Health, cited by France 24) in this first week of vaccination has been that of France. In the first week, he received 560,000 doses, of which he used only 100 on the first day, in almost "symbolic" vaccinations. In the first four days, it only vaccinated 332 people, 1,000 in a week. This week it will receive another 500,000 doses of Pfizer, which are expected to remain unused. "We are in the very last position of the European list [of vaccination]," lamented William Dab, ex-director General of French Health to 'Le Parisien'.