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About 70% of adults in the European Union have been fully immunized against the coronavirus, EU officials said on Tuesday, a step that places the bloc among the world leaders in immunization despite a slow start at the start of the outbreak. year and worrying discrepancies between member states.

After a rocky start, the European Union overtook the United States in vaccinations last month, as campaigns carried out together in the 27 countries of the bloc grew at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world. Tuesday’s announcement signaled meeting a self-set deadline that once seemed well out of reach.

Although the vaccination rate has slowed this month, it has yet to hit a high that some experts and officials feared it would reach over the summer. When children and adolescents are taken into account, more than 55% of the overall EU population has been fully vaccinated, compared to 52% in the US, 61% in Israel and 64% in Britain.

These figures, however, mask big differences between EU countries – differences that Brussels authorities might find it difficult to address, as each member country conducts its own vaccination campaign.

While more than 80 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated in Belgium, Denmark and Portugal, and more than 75 percent in countries like Spain and the Netherlands, this figure drops to 45 percent in Latvia. , 31 percent in Romania and 20 percent in Bulgaria.

“The pandemic is not over,” said Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, as she celebrated the milestone on Tuesday. “We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated.

Some countries, like France and Italy, have put in place strong incentives for people to get vaccinated by requiring Covid passes to dine in restaurants or access cultural venues. (The pass can also be obtained with proof of a negative test.) A significant portion of the population was vaccinated after the passes came into effect, and opposition remained limited.

But it’s a different story in Eastern European countries that could threaten the bloc’s handling of the pandemic in the fall and winter. In Bulgaria, misinformation about the virus, lack of confidence in institutions and the lack of a communication strategy to counter vaccine reluctance have hampered vaccination efforts, including among the elderly. Romania, despite low vaccination rates, sold doses to another EU country, Ireland, to avoid wasting them, and donated others to neighboring countries.

On Tuesday, Von der Leyen said the European Union should “help the rest of the world to vaccinate”, but vaccine diplomacy efforts have so far proved to be limited due to a lack of a coordinated approach from the share of the 27 countries of the bloc to sell or make a donation. dose.

Many countries in the European Union’s immediate neighborhood, such as Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Tunisia, need doses and have one of the highest death rates in the world in terms of population.

In a sign of renewed concern over the pandemic, the European Union on Tuesday recommended that its member states reintroduce travel restrictions for visitors from the United States, Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia.

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