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When will the corona crisis end? That is the single most pressing issue facing the world in early 2021. A massive vaccination campaign that kicked off exactly one month ago should eventually relegate the Covid-19 pandemic to the history books. Yet we are far from there yet. Because the World Corona Vaccination Championship should also be treated as an arduous marathon rather than a simple sprint.

It sounds so simple: Produce vaccines and vaccinate millions of people. Yet getting this done in a fast and competent way is an exceptionally challenging task. Not only are countries dependent on the supply of different serums. They still need to be administered. Preferably as soon as possible. Jabs here and there is a whole different story than actually vaccinating the entire population on a such a massive scale.

Where are countries now one month after V Day? This becomes clear on the inoculation map of Europe shown below, which reveals the current percentage of people who are vaccinated. After Bulgaria, the Netherlands currently ranks bottom among the EU member states at a meagre 0.94%. Not really an orange that makes anyone happy.

British blood drive and Serbian serum sprint

Very few countries in Europe have really resorted to mass vaccinations so far. Most member states are vaccinating in dribs and drabs, but this is hardly helping. It is only in the United Kingdom that the otherwise frequently criticized NHS seems to have the entire logistical operation fairly under control.

More than one in ten residents there has already received a corona vaccine at least once. The non-EU country of Serbia also stands out. After an extremely bumpy start, it seems to have found its feet. In contrast to other countries, the Serbs are relying on the Chinese Sinopharm serum, and they have purchased millions of doses. That this drug has an efficacy between 75% to 80% and is not approved by the EM is something that they are prepared to overlook.

In the interim, this sizeable number is also beginning to become noticeable in the country’s hospitalization rates. These declined by as much as 60 percent among those over 60 during the first three weeks of the vaccination campaign. And all this after the first Pfizer shot, with a second shot still to follow so that optimal protection against Covid-19 is ensured. The Global Top 10 at the end of January is as follows:

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Current rate vs. inoculation rate

So far, the focus in the news coverage of the vaccination campaign has been overwhelmingly on the total number of vaccines administered. But this percentage only partly shows how “well” a country is rolling out vaccinations. An equally important figure is the number of vaccinations administered per day. This provides insight into how quickly countries can scale up their inoculation capacity and whether they will face any stockpiling problems if the pace slows down.

This bottleneck is still relatively wide in the Netherlands because there are still hundreds of thousands of vaccines stored here in Oss which means that there is some catching up can potentially be done.

In countries like Denmark, Italy and Spain, the momentum has completely disappeared after a flying start at the beginning of this month. Is the Netherlands really innoculating that much slower than the rest? No. Even though our country is below the EU average, it seems that there is no real hurry anywhere. Nevertheless, that false start caused the Netherlands to lag behind so badly on the first chart. Yet this percentage does not show the full story …

The inoculation chart below shows the daily number of vaccines administered per 10,000 members of the population based on the progressive weekly average. Is the Netherlands a bit sluggish? Yes. But are all the others really that fast? No. This scaled-back pace is clearly evident when you add in last week’s figures.

Work to do

It is often thought that the administration of millions of vaccines is chiefly a medical matter. Except that the actual implementation of this is more of a logistical issue. How do you manage in the space of a few months to conjure up a well-oiled vaccination system that will help the population gain their freedom as quickly as possible and on an industrial scale? A sufficient supply of vaccines alone is simply not enough. The roll out must also take place strategically.

Only in Great Britain do the cogs seem to be turning in the right direction by the end of January. The British are even stepping up the pace. While in the rest of Europe this is far from being the case. The reason for this is that the shelves of Pfizer vaccines are almost empty. The next batches are not expected for a while.

If the EU countries do not manage to ramp up their current pace and capacity, the future outlook is pretty grim. This is immediately apparent on the following infographic that depicts the projected date by which 70 percent of adults will have been vaccinated against Covid-19 twice when vaccinations continue at the same dawdling pace. At the rate they are going this will be achieved in the UK before summer. Whereas in Bulgaria, there will only be enough citizens vaccinated by early 2042 (!) to be able to achieve herd immunity.

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Monstrous logistical task

In order to herald in this future ‘Herd Immunity Day’, we used the current number of inoculations administered plus the progressive daily average extrapolated to when 70 percent of the population aged 19 years and older will have had two inoculation dates.

Are these estimations realistic? Thankfully, no. Is the Netherlands the slowest of all when it comes to inoculations? Also not true. Croatia, Lithuania, Italy, Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria are lagging behind even more, judging by the daily figures from the past week. Although our country is admittedly not exactly in the lead group, the vaccination capacity is currently not up to scratch in any of the member states.

Denmark – and to a lesser extent Spain and Italy – did prove in January that they are capable of shifting up a few gears. If there are enough supplies. But so far, nowhere has the pace been fast enough so that we’ll be able to jump into the arms of our loved ones and toast Corona Liberation Day in the early days of 2021. The infographic above is primarily intended to demonstrate how critical scaling up is for a smooth and expeditious vaccination strategy.

Pick up the pace …

Expectations are that the pace will pick up over the coming months as the millions of Janssen, AstraZeneca, CureVac and Sanofi doses roll off the assembly line. Yet the next phase – actually putting the serums into upper arms on a scale similar to the British (or Israelis) – should by no means be underestimated.

It constitutes the most complex logistical puzzle in human history. What with billions of loose pieces such as serums, healthcare personnel, manufacturers, suppliers, facilities, governments and citizens. How do you make sure that the right stuff gets to the right people? If this is not tightly organized, then having sand thrown in the machine will cause months or even years of delays.

Otherwise, it could take years

We will learn in the near future how much careful thought governments have given to this operation. One thing is clear: The EU countries will all have to grit their teeth for a bit longer, because at the current pace, we will be stuck with this for years to come. Apart from the long-suffering lockdown fatigue, economic malaise and mental anguish, in this new phase blundering procrastination will inevitably lead to more deaths and continuous crowding in hospitals.

When will the Netherlands get to celebrate Corona Liberation Day? Hopefully in 2021. But to achieve this, an unprecedented amount of work still needs to be done. And yes, this really is a competition. A competition that we have got to win.