Europe rushes for booster vaccines amid surge in Covid cases

With Covid-19 case numbers soaring relentlessly in Germany last week, long queues of anxious residents formed outside makeshift vaccination centers. Among those waiting was Marcel, a 24-year-old chemistry student at the Technical University of Berlin, who spontaneously showed up to try to get a third dose.

Standing in line for 60 people in an exhibition hall in western Berlin, he said he wanted to help take the pressure off the health system. “I have a friend who works in a hospital and he tells me what kind of stress he has,” he said.

This is a message a growing number of health ministries across Europe want citizens to hear loud and clear. Many European countries have been slow to introduce boosters and have focused their campaigns on the elderly and the medically frail.

But the dangerous size of The latest wave of infectionand growing concerns about the spread of the new Omicron variant It was first discovered in South Africa, means that governments speed up the acceleration of support campaigns. Eight countries in the European Union, including Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, have recorded more than 100 daily cases per 100,000 people according to a Financial Times analysis of the latest data – the largest percentage on record.

“A new wave is hitting us, and we need to increase vaccination even more,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday, insisting that the problem was not an insufficient supply of doses, but rather the need to get more injections in people. arms.

Jens Lundgren, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Copenhagen’s Rijkshospitalte, said Europe’s problem was a combination of two factors: a lack of initial vaccination, along with insufficient reinforcement among those who had already been stabbed. “You have to keep the focus on both fronts,” he said.

EU agencies are pressing hard. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said last week that boosters should be considered for anyone over 18 – with priority given to those over 40.

From January 10, travelers entering the European Union will have to either receive a booster dose or receive a second hit at least nine months in advance, according to the commission’s new guidelines. The European Union will also make plans to recognize boosters in vaccine certifications.

Capitals were closely Keep track of developments in the UK, where reinforcement efforts began in September, as well as Israel, which led the world in initiating reinforcements. The daily rate of Covid-related deaths in the UK per 100,000 is half the EU average, according to an FT analysis of official data, with the numbers attributed Partly to higher levels of immunity helped by the booster injections.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn acknowledges the difficulties of ramping up the vaccine distribution system that was

German Health Minister Jens Spahn acknowledges the difficulties in expanding a vaccine distribution system that has been “working at a different pace” © Sean Gallup / Getty Images

In France, the government said on Thursday it would make a punch booster available to all adults, five months after the second dose. In Italy, boosters will be given five months after the second dose, instead of six. This will allow most people to receive the extra dose in December, before the cold season.

But the picture is still disjointed. Spain is committed to a policy of focusing on booster shots for those over the 60s. Officials defend this approach, pointing to much lower Covid case rates than Germany, Austria or the Netherlands.

Differing approaches have also emerged in Austria and its non-EU neighbor Switzerland. In Austria, where cases are on the rise due to a high proportion of completely unvaccinated adults The country forced a new closure, about 1.3 million boosters have been used in a population of about 9 million.

Chart showing countries facing a race to roll out boosters ahead of the winter wave

The recent increase in the number of Austrians attending vaccination centers – caused by the government’s increasingly restrictive measures against unvaccinated people – was largely the people who took a third dose.

Switzerland, which has a nearly identical proportion of unvaccinated people as Austria but has not yet seen an equivalent rise in infections, is at the opposite end of the European spectrum.

Bern has insisted for weeks that the booster injection is largely unnecessary for most Swiss. Indeed, while other countries are considering shortening the validity period of vaccine certificates, Switzerland has said it plans to go the other way: it wants full vaccination status to last for 18 months after a second dose is given, up from 12 months.

In Germany, officials want to offer the booster shot to at least 27 million people by the end of the year. On Friday, Health Minister Jens Spahn said 6.5 million doses of the Moderna booster dose would be delivered to regions on Monday and Tuesday alone: ​​Within 10 days, he said, a total of 18 million doses would be dispatched.

But he acknowledged that the sudden increase could pose a logistical challenge. “In 10-12 days, we’re rearranging a system that’s been running at a different pace over the summer, in terms of orders,” Spahn said. In the summer, doctors’ offices and vaccination centers would only order 100,000 doses every seven days. “We are now sending 10 million doses a week. So all the logistical mechanisms will take some time to function.”

Even if the country’s vaccination efforts gain momentum, they are unlikely to prevent the harsh winter. In Germany, the fourth wave broke records: on Friday, the authorities reported 76,414 new infections, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began.

Katja, the 44-year-old sociologist who was among the waiters in Berlin, said she feared the rush of booster shots was too late. “This . . . will not help us now—it is only useful for the fifth wave.” “It’s a pity that so many people are deciding to get a jab now.”

By Sam Fleming in Brussels, Silke Richter and Guy Chazan in Berlin, Sam Jones in Zurich, Daniel Dombe in Madrid and Silvia Sciorelli Borelli in Milan

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