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COMPARE: Which countries are leading the race to vaccinate in Europe?

Germany and France both set new daily vaccination records this week. Here's how different countries in Europe compare.

COMPARE: Which countries are leading the race to vaccinate in Europe?
People queue outside a vaccination center on April 26, 2021. Photo. Lluis Gene/AFP

After a sluggish start, the pace of vaccination in the European countries covered by The Local’s network has picked up significantly this month, with Germany hitting a daily record 1.1m doses on Wednesday, France a daily record of 566,000 doses on Friday, and Spain now averaging over 300,000 doses a day, 

If you drag the date button at the bottom of the chart below back to the start of vaccinations on December 27th and then move it slowly forward to the current day, you can see clearly how Spain, Germany, and Austria have pushed ahead. 

You can also see how Denmark, the quickest European Union country off the mark in January and February, has lost its lead due to its decision to suspend the AstraZeneca jab on March 11th, and then on April 14th to discontinue its use completely. 

Denmark had also banked heavily on the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, committing to taking 8.2 million doses, making it particularly hard hit by the delay in deliveries of the vaccine.

If you look at the chart below showing total vaccine doses delivered, you can see clearly how the pace has been accelerating, with Germany, France, Italy and Spain each administering about twice as many doses in April as they did in March. 

France, the worst performer among the country’s covered by The Local in January and February, started improving in March, first overtaking Sweden, Belgium, and The Netherlands in terms of per capita doses administered, and then briefly overtaking Germany in early April. 

Until the spurt in vaccinations over the last few weeks, Germany has been steady but unspectacular, ranking in the middle of the countries covered by The Local in terms of the number of doses delivered. 

Denmark still leads in the share of its population that is fully vaccinated, thanks to its decision to keep a relatively short three-week gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines until April 16th, when the gap was extended to six weeks. 

Switzerland has also had a relatively short one-month gap between doses, with the country’s Covid-19 Task Force only recommending on April 21st that the gap be extended to six weeks. 

As a result, more than 11 percent of Denmark’s population is now vaccinated, with Switzerland not far behind. That’s nearly double the share achieved by Denmark’s neighbour, Norway. 

When it comes to the share of the population who have had at least one dose, however, the picture is almost reversed, underlining the impact of national priorities and vaccination strategies. 

The decision of Germany’s Permanent Vaccination Commission on March 4th to recommend extending the gap between the first and second AstraZeneca dose to a maximum of 12 weeks has paid dividends here, with more than a quarter of people in the country having had at least one dose. 

Norway and Sweden have had a six-week gap between doses for the Pfizer vaccine since March, with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommending this Friday that the gap be extended to 12 weeks for both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines.  

The chart below makes it clear that while the EU took control of vaccine purchasing for most of its member states, countries have different strategies once they receive the deliveries.

While France, Germany, Denmark and Austria began giving the vaccine to all vulnerable groups by the end of February, and Norway in March, Sweden and Spain have kept a tight focus on the elderly who are seen as most at risk. 

One of the factors that helped Denmark achieve its relatively rapid rollout at the start was the high trust in vaccines in the country, an advantage it shared with Norway, Germany and Sweden. 

According to a YouGov study commissioned by Imperial College (which provides the data to the chart below), at the time vaccinations began at the end of December, 53 percent of Danes said they would take a vaccine if given to them that week,  compared to just 19.9 percent of respondents from France. 

Vaccine scepticism among those not yet vaccinated has since then reduced in all 16 countries surveyed except for the United Kingdom (where the slight fall is probably due to a stable number of vaccine sceptics comprising a greater share of those yet to be inoculated). 

When Denmark suspended and then discontinued the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-March the share of unvaccinated survey respondents who would have a dose that week fell from 72 percent to 65 percent, with smaller falls also seen in Italy, Spain, Germany and Norway. But confidence in the vaccine has since bounced back to 67 percent. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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