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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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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This 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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