Around 70% of the adult population in the European Union has been fully vaccinated, whilst the same percentage of the total population in Belgium is fully protected against the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, more than 256 million adults in the EU have received a full vaccine course, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a press release announcing the “crucial milestone”.
“The EU’s strategy of moving forward together is paying off and putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19,” she said.
Following a slow start to the rollout of the vaccines in the EU – one that was criticised as “unacceptably slow” by the World Health Organisation – the speed has since picked up across the continent.
After already reaching the Commission’s delivery target to provide Member States with enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult EU population by the end of July ahead of time, von der Leyen stressed that this was a “great achievement”, but that “the pandemic is not over.”
As cases continue to surge in many EU countries, hospital admissions are starting to increase as well.
In many countries, including in Belgium, the majority of people being hospitalised and being treated in intensive care units are unvaccinated, resulting in Von der Leyen calling on everyone who can be vaccinated to get their doses.
As of Saturday, 70.3% of the total population in Belgium has been fully vaccinated, equating to around 8.1 million people.
Belgium was previously aiming for a vaccination coverage of 70%, as experts had said that this was needed to achieve herd immunity, but experts have now said the threshold should be raised to 85% to 90% to be safe, especially considering the possibility of new variants and the rise in cases.
The Vaccination Taskforce estimates that around 200,000 Belgians could still turn up to receive a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by the end of September, which could result in the vaccination coverage rate reaching 75 to 80%, according to Taskforce chairman Dirk Ramaekers.
Given the threat of new variants, the EU signed a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer to guarantee the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines between the end of the year and 2023, to ensure continued access to the vaccines.
In a further bid to stop variants from spreading, the EU on Monday recommended a pause on all non-essential travel from the United States as its Covid-19 cases are surging, and hospital admissions have risen past 100,000 for the first time since winter last year.
The guidance will reverse the advice that was given in June, suggesting restrictions should be lifted on American travellers ahead of tourism season, however, it will still be up to individual countries to decide whether they will grant access to US visitors with proof of vaccination, negative tests, or quarantine.
Alongside the US, other countries that have been removed from the EU’s safe travel list include Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
Meanwhile, within the EU itself, but also globally, the vaccination rollout remains unbalanced, which, according to experts, could be detrimental to efforts being made to control the pandemic.
“We will continue to support in particular those Member States that are continuing to face challenges. We need to close the immunity gap and the door for new variants and to do so, vaccinations must win the race over variants,” Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said.
Von der Leyen also stressed that the EU must help “the rest of the world vaccinate, too, saying “Europe will continue to support its partners in this effort, in particular the low and middle income countries.”
According to the Commission’s statement, the EU has exported about half of the vaccines produced in Europe to other countries in the world, as well as donating around €3 billion to the COVAX programme to help secure at least 1.8 billion doses for 92 low and lower middle-income countries.
EU countries can resell or donate extra doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility, including those acquired through new contracts.