This time last year, most people heard about SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as Coronavirus, for the first time. After one year of living with the virus, scientists have finally developed a vaccine based on 20 years of research into SARS viruses.
On December 21st, the European Medical Agency (EMA), which operates under the European Union, held an ‘extraordinary meeting’ to discuss the newly developed Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19. The EMA gave the green light for conditional marketing authorisation. This implies that more clinical data will be collected, but that the benefits outweigh the risks, and that the medicine should be distributed. The decision underpins and enables an EU-wide vaccine campaign, whose goal it is to protect EU citizens by giving them the injections.
Whilst the EU decides which vaccines are authorised, member states may autonomously set up a vaccination scheme for instance, each state can decide on when to start vaccination and define priority groups. Most countries have already begun to vaccinate their citizens within the last days of December 2020. Others expect injections to proceed early in the new year, with the full population vaccinated in 6-12 months. However, not everyone is thrilled about their country's vaccination plan.
In recent years, a group of people known as "anti-vaxxers" has soared. Anti-vaxxers, for varying reasons, do not want to inject vaccines into their own, or seldom their children's bodies. It is well-known and often demonstrated by experts that vaccines must be taken by the vast majority of people to be efficient.Therefore, once enough people are vaccinated, society has reached the status of 'herd immunity' or 'population immunity'; A state whereby enough people are immune from the disease in order to prevent the spread to those who have not received the vaccine. Whilst the percentage of people who need to take the Covid-19 vaccine to reach herd immunity is currently unknown, it is likely to be around 70%. However, this percentage is subject to variation when considering new mutations and other environmental factors. For this reason, it is a priority for the EU to ensure that all individuals, with some exclusions based on medical grounds, are vaccinated.
Even though a vaccine’s hesitancy may not initially seem like a problem due to the shortfall of current supply, we should not ignore the current general trend. For example, conducted surveys show that Europeans are among the most sceptical when it comes to inoculations. Furthermore, many individuals express concerns regarding the safety of jabs against Covid-19, which is demonstrated by the significant levels of resistance within major European states. For instance, in France, Spain, Poland and Hungary, around 40% of adults have declared they would refuse the Covid-19 vaccination. Thus, the only way for the European Union to disembark from the status-quo of a pandemic lockdown and return to a stage of normality, is to dissuade vaccine sceptics.
At the moment, European states try to build public trust by using media campaigns based on well-known rhetorical appeals namely, logos, ethos and pathos. They present scientific data on vaccination and negate fake news by using public figures who are trusted by the general public and as a result, appeal to citizens' feelings, values, and sense of empathy. Nevertheless, public campaigning is not the only strategy used. Each individual, who receives a jab, is also given a vaccination certificate, which may offer certain benefits for its holder. Interestingly, specific Member States and the EU on the whole, are now considering possible policy changes for people who have received the vaccine. Arguably, this can become very beneficial for example, within the context of travel, as it currently stands, individuals need to show a negative Covid-19 test and/or quarantine for a certain period of time. Therefore, having said this, the new regulation could take this burden away from people who are immune due to the vaccine.
Altogether, although the EU emphasizes encouragement rather than mandate when it comes to policy, there is an intriguing yet controversial proposal that has been implemented by Spain. For instance, the health minister Salvador Illa wants to establish a register for those who were offered the vaccine but declined it. Essentially, the plan is to keep the list private from the public, but share it with other EUMember States. So, the proposal aims to encourage people to take the vaccine in order to escape the list and its possible consequences.
The EU has faced a significant challenge due to the spread of Sars-Cov-2 virus. For months it has been trying to preserve unity among its member states and ensure efficiency. After months, it seems like the race for a vaccine has been successful and that each EU member state will secure the required doses of the vaccine. However, it is now the crucial task for the EU to ensure that the anti-vaccine scepticism does not spread, so that enough people decide to take the vaccine to reach a state of “herd immunity”.
Written by Katarzyna Niedźwiecka, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.