EU could achieve Covid-19 immunity by mid-July, says vaccine chief

The EU's population of 450 million could achieve Covid-19 herd immunity by mid-July, the EU's vaccine chief Thierry Breton told French newspaper Le Parisien.

EU could achieve Covid-19 immunity by mid-July, says vaccine chief
Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner in charge of the vaccine production task force, said the EU could achieve Covid-19 immunity by mid-July. Photo: Emil Helms / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP

Breton, the EU commissioner in charge of the vaccine task force, had already suggested at the end of March that herd immunity would be possible in the EU by July 14th, as incoming jabs are expected to speed up the continent’s sluggish vaccine rollout.

On Monday, he confirmed his prediction to Le Parisien: “We now have good visibility of what is happening, from the production of vaccines to the distribution and tests,” he said.

“Fourteen million doses were delivered to the EU in January, 28 million in February and 60 million in March. For the next quarter, we will increase to 100 million in April, May and June. Then 120 million in the summer, and we will reach a rate of 200 million from September,” he said.

In the second half of the year as a whole, the EU will have received over 800 million doses, according to Breton.

READ ALSO: Europe’s slow vaccine rollout is ‘prolonging the pandemic’ as infections surge

The note of optimism came after several European countries have reimposed restrictions in an attempt to halt soaring Covid case numbers, and the World Health Organisation slammed Europe’s vaccine rollout as “unacceptably slow” on Thursday, saying that it was prolonging the pandemic.

“Vaccines present our best way out of the pandemic…However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow,” WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

So far, only about 10 percent of the region’s total population have received one vaccine dose, and four percent have completed a full vaccine series, the organisation said.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories and includes Russia and several Central Asian nations.

But when it comes to the EU’s slow vaccine rollout, Breton blamed the AstraZeneca laboratory.

“If we had received 100 percent of the AstraZeneca vaccines we were contractually owed, today the EU would be at the same level as the UK in terms of vaccination,” he said. “I can confirm that this hole is due entirely to AstraZeneca’s delivery failures.”

READ ALSO: Questions about possible AstraZeneca jab side-effects linger

On Monday, Johnson & Johnson said it would start delivering its single-shot Covid vaccine to Europe on April 19th, giving the continent a boost in its vaccination drive.

The EU has signed a firm order for 200 million J&J doses and an option for 200 million more.

Member comments

  1. Typical French bullshit:

    “If we had received 100 percent of the AstraZeneca vaccines we were contractually owed, today the EU would be at the same level as the UK in terms of vaccination,” he said. “I can confirm that this hole is due entirely to AstraZeneca’s delivery failures.”

    The EU was simply late, couldn’t make a decision, didn’t put any effort (or money) into the Oxford vaccine’s development as the UK did, then having belatedly put in an order didn’t read or understand the contract they signed, again couldn’t make a decision to allow the vaccine to be used, then stockpiled what they had (which is probably still the case), then threatened illegally to ban exports and they’re still in a mess.

    “The EU’s population of 450 million could achieve Covid-19 herd immunity by mid-July” – only in your dreams Mr Breton!

    The sclerotic EU administration are useless and the whole debacle is nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics. Pathetic, dangerous and will come back to haunt them.

    That’s the truth.

    1. A perfect summary of what has happened. Political posturing by the EU Commission has left them in this dire situation, and rather than take responsibility for their actions they want to blame someone else. I feel very sad for the people that have died from their mistakes.

  2. I don’t see how more deliveries from AZ to the EU would have made any difference since it was widely publicised at the time that the EU wasn’t even using up the deliveries they had received. This is all political double-speak which is pretty shameful in the midst of a lethal pandemic.

  3. This pandemic has reinforced my belief that politicians and these global organisations are not to be believed FULL STOP.

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REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.