When will Europe achieve herd immunity? This is a question many people have been wondering about as the vaccination campaign continues in many countries. Even though the United-Kingdom has already vaccinated 27,630,970 inhabitants, namely 41.46% of the population, other countries are keeping up, so do Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Austria, and even Greece and the Czech Republic. As for France, the country as vaccinated – as of March 22, 2021 – 5,630,671 inhabitants, namely 8.4% of the population.
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But according to EU’s Commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton, Europe may achieve herd immunity by July 14th. This is what he told on March 21 on TF1. To support such a statement, Breton relies on the arrival of new vaccine doses. “Today we clearly are able to supply 300 to 350 million doses by late June, and then, by July 14th […] we have the possibility of achieving immunity across the continent”, he stated. “We will absolutely not need Sputnik V […] or other vaccines either”, Breton added before saying: “We need those that are there to be produced massively and inoculated massively”.
Skeptical scientists and experts
But according to some experts and doctors specialized in herd immunity, this horizon remains rather uncertain, at least from a scientific point of view. "It may be a bit optimistic", Geneva university hospitals epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist Pr. Didier Pittet tells L'Express. And for good reason: he reminds the very large majority of Covid vaccines currently on the market require two doses, including an interval time. Maximum protection is only provided two weeks after the second dose has been inoculated. Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains an exception, especially as it represents a small part of supplies in Europe.
Furthermore, the doctor is not the only one to consider the date of July 14th as a sweet illusion. According to La Pitié Salpêtrière hospital epidemiologist and parasitology unit head Pr. Renaux Piarroux tells L'Express that "reaching this herd immunity suggests we can protect at least 80% of the population, namely 340 million people in Europe, excluding younh children who barely give the disease", he says, skeptical. But he also reminds vaccines are not 100% effective, making things harder. "They are more around 90%, a rate that yet remains to be confirmed on the UK variant", the expert underlines.
According to Geneva Institute of Global Health Pr. Antoine Flahault, "the bet on herd immunity is a risky bet". If we really want to get rid of the epidemic, "it would be undoubtedly more prudent not to bet everything on vaccines, and accompany vaccination campaigns with a plan to cut the spread of the virus on the European territory". Furthermore, another expert, epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola supports the same hypothesis. "Separately from these different considerations, I can't see how we could have vaccinated 53 million French by July 14th", she says. In the meantime, the government is pacing up the vaccination campaign by widely opening vaccination centers in the country.