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EU Overtakes U.S. in Covid-19 Vaccines as Delta Variant Spreads


MILAN—The European Union passed the U.S. in Covid-19 vaccinations, with the continent inoculating people at a sustained pace and America struggling to persuade vaccine holdouts to get a shot to slow the spread of the Delta variant.

The EU has given at least one vaccine shot to 259 million people, or 58.3% of the total population of its 27 member countries as of Thursday, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data, an Oxford University project tracking the global vaccine rollout. The U.S. has reached 56.7% of its population, equivalent to 189 million people. 

The EU has boosted its figure by 9 percentage points in the past month while the U.S. managed less than a 3-point increase.

The vaccine drive in the EU and the U.S. has gained new urgency in recent weeks as the more contagious Delta variant of the virus sweeps across the globe. Infections have risen quickly in both places, pushing political leaders and public health experts to seek new ways to get people motivated to get vaccinated.

In Europe, some governments are seeking to convince people by putting restrictions on those who don’t get vaccinated. France and Italy recently announced new rules requiring vaccination, a recent negative test or proof of recovery from Covid-19 for people who want to partake in some aspects of daily life such as indoor dining at restaurants or going to the gym.

EU Overtakes U.S. in Covid-19 Vaccines as Delta Variant Spreads 2

People in Paris rallied this month against requirements related to Covid-19.


Michel Euler/Associated Press

The measures haven’t been universally accepted, with people demonstrating against the requirements in France and Italy. The protests have been relatively small so far, but officials in both countries and elsewhere in Europe are closely monitoring developments.

U.S. states and cities have also started to act to encourage vaccination and try to tap down eventual infections. This week, California and New York City said some public employees will be required to get vaccinated or take frequent Covid-19 tests.

The Biden administration is expected to announce on Thursday that federal employees must get vaccinated or be regularly tested for Covid-19, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The EU and the U.S. have both faced declining vaccination rates, but the drop has been much less pronounced on the continent, where the total number of daily shots has dropped by 28% over the past six weeks. In the U.S., about 500,000 shots are currently being administered a day, an 85% drop from the average 3.4 million a day reached in early April.

Like with U.S. states, there is a wide difference in the vaccination rate between EU countries. Denmark has given at least one dose to 72% of its population. Among the more populous member countries, Spain has reached 67% and Italy 63%. In Bulgaria, 15% of the population has received at least one dose.

The U.S. still has a slight lead in the percent of people who are fully vaccinated, 48.9% compared with 47.8% in the EU.

Covid-19’s Delta variant is proliferating world-wide threatening unvaccinated populations and economic recovery. WSJ breaks down events in key countries to explain why Delta spreads faster than previously detected strains. Composite: Sharon Shi

To gauge the momentum of the vaccine drives, public health experts often focus on the number of people who have gotten at least the first dose, under the assumption that those people will be motivated to get the second dose when the time has arrived.

Though Delta has brought a rise in infections in most countries, hospitalizations and deaths haven’t risen precipitously like in other waves of the pandemic. But deaths are starting to tick up in many countries and the U.K. has become a cautionary example.

The U.K. faced a surge of Delta infections before the EU and the U.S. and now after a period in which deaths were relatively stable, they have again started to rise. The country’s seven-day rolling average was less than 10 deaths a day in May and the first half of June and that has risen to more than 50, although new cases are now falling.

Write to Eric Sylvers at [email protected]

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