The Belgian city of Aarschot has a vaccination rate of 94% of all adults, but Mayor Gwendolyn Rutten fears her city is too close to the capital, Brussels, where the rate is 63%. But there is not much she can do about it.
Your hope is that the government will make vaccinations mandatory. “Otherwise you put everyone else in danger again,” said Rutten in a recent interview.
But few countries in the European Union have issued direct mandates that instead require proof of a vaccination, negative test, or recent recovery from COVID-19 in order to participate in more and more activities – sometimes even to go to work.
In the US, which has faced significant vaccine resistance, more far-reaching requirements are the order of the day. President Biden announced mandates last week that would cover large segments of the population, sometimes with no testing facility.
Despite seemingly different strategies, officials in both the US and the EU are grappling with the same question: how to maximize vaccination rates and end a pandemic that has repeatedly thwarted efforts to combat it.
And the apparent split can actually narrow. Some European countries do not state their restrictions, but make life so difficult for people without a vaccine that it can amount to the same thing.
In what may be a surprising move in a country known for promoting individual freedoms, Biden has imposed sweeping vaccine requirements for up to 100 million Americans, including many private sector and healthcare workers. Employees in companies with more than 100 employees must have themselves immunized or tested weekly, while employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government need a vaccination – with no testing facility. There are a few exceptions.
The seemingly more aggressive US policy may reflect the greater pressure there. The EU, which initially lagged far behind the US in terms of vaccinations, outperformed them at the end of July. According to Our World In Data, 60% of the population of the 27-nation bloc had been vaccinated as of Thursday, compared with 53% in the United States. In both places, vaccination rates vary widely from country to country or from state to state.
American authorities from Biden downwards have dubbed the current phase a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” with data showing that nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the US now occur in people who have not been vaccinated. EU officials have used the same description for persistent outbreaks in their countries.
But it is more difficult for the EU to enforce vaccine mandates as health policy is the responsibility of the 27 national governments and senior EU officials are walking on eggshells to address the problem. When specifically asked by The Associated Press whether mandatory vaccination might be part of the solution, three EU commissioners evaded the question, although none argued against it.
“That is not in our area of responsibility. This is not part of our legal framework, “said EU Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, adding:” But if there is one message that we want to get across to the Member States and through the Member States to the European citizens, it is’ vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.'”
Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton stressed that supplies were not a problem and that the bloc would be “ready for whatever is needed”. This underscores that such debates can only take place in wealthy countries, while many low-income countries are still unable to give all of their citizens a first chance.
But while officials in Brussels cannot impose a mandate on 450 million EU citizens, many national governments are tightening restrictions on those who are not vaccinated. Some countries actually require vaccines for some groups: Slovenia prescribes them for government employees with no opportunity to try them.
However, more common in the EU are essentially regular tests for those who are not vaccinated.
Would you like to see “The Last Judgment” by the Flemish primitive Rogier van der Weyden in a Burgundian museum? You will need to present what is known as a COVID passport showing a negative test, vaccination, or recent recovery from COVID-19 to admire this northern renaissance gem. The restrictions apply across France to everything from entering restaurants to visiting the Eiffel Tower.
France struggled to increase its meager vaccination rates in early summer and was the first major EU country to use such passports. Macron then announced mandatory vaccinations for all health workers in July.
It turned out to be effective. In the eight weeks since the announcement, the French health service announced that the overall vaccination rate has increased from 40% fully vaccinated to 69%.
As a result, it found other buyers in the block. And Italy, which already needed the pass for many activities, added it on Thursday. Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government said workers in both the public and private sectors will soon be forced to go to work. Slovenia and Greece have taken similar measures, but Italy is the first major European economy to require the COVID passport for access to workplaces in all sectors.
The health passport “is not an impetus to get vaccinated, it is not quite as gentle a nudge,” said the Italian legal expert Vitalba Azzollini.
On both sides of the Atlantic, people have sometimes found the push more like a push.
There has been a lot of angry rhetoric and isolated demonstrations in the United States.
“Everyone should have the right to say ‘no’ to something and not lose everything,” said Candace Ganjavi, a nurse at Memorial Herman Healthcare in Houston, Texas who helps others with advice on obtaining a vaccine exemption from her employer’s mandate Has.
Meanwhile, Republican governors in the United States have loudly condemned Biden’s mandate and vowed to take legal action. The governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, promised to fight the president “to the gates of hell”.
Biden defended the mandates by saying, “My job as President is to protect all Americans”.
Italy and France have seen thousands take to the streets to protest against COVID passports, some of which led to clashes with police in Paris. In Slovenia, hundreds of vaccine opponents hurled torches at the parliament building on Wednesday to protest against new measures that require a COVID passport to enter almost every shop, as well as restaurants and private workplaces.
The government doubled in size and announced on Friday that it would expand the requirement to include government employees.
The vaccination rates have skyrocketed since the first measures were announced.
“I would be more happy if people understood why they need to be vaccinated,” says Bojana Beović, head of the Ministry of Health’s advisory group on COVID-19. “But the main thing is that the proportion of the vaccinated population increases. ”