In different ways, the US and the EU try to promote vaccination

The Belgian town of Aarscot has a vaccination rate of 94% of adults, but its mayor, Gwendolyn Rutten, is concerned about its proximity to the country’s capital, Brussels, where the rate is 63%. However, there is not much you can do about it.

His hope is that the government will make vaccination mandatory. “Otherwise, you drag everyone else back into danger,” Rutten said in a recent interview.

But few countries in the European Union have imposed the vaccine, and instead require people to show proof that they are immunized, have tested negative on a diagnostic test, or have recently recovered from COVID-19 to participate in each time. more activities or even sometimes to go to work.

Widespread requirements are the order of the day in the United States, which has encountered considerable resistance to vaccines. The president, Joe Biden, announced last week impositions that affect a large part of the population, sometimes with no alternative option to do diagnostic tests.

Despite seemingly disparate strategies, authorities in both the United States and the European Union grapple with the same problem: how to maximize the vaccination rate and end a pandemic that has repeatedly resisted efforts to control it.

And in fact, the apparent difference could be narrowing. Although they have not described their restrictions as orders, some European countries are making life so difficult for the unvaccinated that in practice it could be an equivalent measure.

In a perhaps surprising move for a country known for defending individual freedom, Biden has imposed sweeping vaccine requirements for up to 100 million Americans, including many private sector employees and healthcare workers. Employees in firms with more than 100 workers will have to be vaccinated or tested weekly, and vaccinations will be required for employees of the executive branch of the government and contractors who work with the federal government, with no alternative to diagnostic tests. There are some exceptions.

The apparently more aggressive US strategy could reflect the increased pressure facing the country. The EU, which initially lagged behind the United States in vaccinations, overtook it at the end of July. By Thursday, the 27-country bloc had vaccinated 60% of its population, compared to 53% in the United States, according to Our World In Data. In both regions, immunization rates vary greatly from country to country or state to state.

US authorities, led by Biden, have described the current phase of the crisis as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as data indicates that nearly all of the COVID-19 deaths in the country were unvaccinated. The rulers in the EU have described the situation of the outbreaks in their countries the same.

But it is more difficult for the EU to introduce mandatory vaccines, as health policy is the responsibility of its 27 national governments, and EU leaders treat the issue very cautiously. When asked specifically by The Associated Press if mandatory vaccines could be part of the solution, three EU commissioners sidestepped the issue, although none took a position against it.

“That is not within our jurisdiction. It is not part of our legal framework, ”said European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas before adding. “But if there is a message that we would like to repeat to member states and through member states to European citizens, it is ‘get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated.’

The Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, insisted that the supply of doses would not be a problem and that the block “will be ready for whatever is necessary.” This underscores that these debates only take place in rich countries, while many low-income countries still cannot offer even a first dose to all their citizens.

But while authorities in Brussels cannot impose an order on the EU’s 450 million citizens, many national governments are tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated. In fact, some countries have required vaccinations to some groups: Slovenia has imposed it on government employees, with no alternative to tests.

However, in the EU it is more common for those who are not immunized to require regular testing.

Want to see “The Last Judgment” by the early Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden in a Burgundy museum? You must show the so-called COVID pass – which certifies a negative test result, vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19 – to be allowed to admire the Renaissance work. Restrictions in France range from going into restaurants to visiting the Eiffel Tower.

France, which struggled to boost vaccination rates in the early summer, was the first large EU country to start using such passes. President Emmanuel Macron announced later in July that all health workers should be vaccinated.

The system worked. In the eight weeks since the announcement, the French public health said that the vaccination rate had gone from 40% of the population with the complete schedule to 69%.

As a result, the system has been adopted in other countries of the bloc. Italy, which already required the pass for many activities, upped the ante on Thursday. The government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that workers in the public or private sectors would soon be forced to show their pass to go to work. Slovenia and Greece have adopted similar measures, but Italy is the first major European economy to require the COVID pass to access workspaces in all sectors.

The health pass “is not an invitation to get vaccinated, it is not very gentle pressure,” said Italian legal expert Vitalba Azzollini.

On both sides of the Atlantic, people have at times felt more pushed than pressured.

In the United States, this has led to aggressive messages and some demonstrations.

“Everyone should have the right to say ‘no’ to something, without losing everything,” said Candace Ganjavi, a nurse at Memorial Herman Healthcare in Houston, Texas, who advises others on how to get a waiver from the vaccine order. issued by your employer.

Meanwhile, Republican governors across the US have openly condemned Biden’s order and promised legal action. The governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, promised to fight the president “to the gates of hell.”

Biden has defended his orders and stated that “my job as President is to protect all Americans.”

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Italy and France in protests against COVID passes. Some of the rallies in Paris ended in clashes with the police. In Slovenia, hundreds of anti-vaccine protesters launched flares at the parliament building on Wednesday to protest new measures that require a COVID pass to enter almost any business, as well as restaurants and private work spaces.

The government maintained its position and on Friday announced that it would increase the measure to government employees.

Vaccination rates have skyrocketed since the announcement.

“I would be more satisfied if people understood why they have to get vaccinated,” said Bojana Beović, head of the advisory group on COVID-19 at the Ministry of Health. “But the main thing is that the proportion of the vaccinated population is growing.”

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Associated Press journalists Christina Larson in Washington, Josh Hoffner in Phoenix, Angela Charlton in Paris, Colleen Barry in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and AP reporters across the EU contributed to this report.

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