Preventing miscalculations and timely correction of public immunization policy is of equal importance for the countries that have made good progress towards collective immunity against COVID19, and for the countries that are just launching immunization campaigns. Especially interesting are details of COVID19 response in the EU countries where national profiles of immunization policy resulted in significant differences in vaccination rates against the backdrop of the solidarity approach to vaccine procurement. This pilot research looks at nine EU member-states, including Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia, to try and show how political, economic and social challenging factors define the management and the process of COVID19 immunization campaigns. On the other hand, new EU member-states faced the challenges during their vaccination campaigns that are relevant for Ukraine.
- Viktoria Vdovychenko, Ph.D., Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”, Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University
- Tetiana Zosymenko, Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”, Chernihiv National University of Technology
COVID19 vaccination is of critical importance for the recovery of the global economy, and that of the EU. As vaccine nationalism has a serious negative impact on the economies of its very initiators, the EU’s solidarity approach could serve as a model of moderate approach to vaccine distribution for other states. However, national nuances of EU member-states have resulted in serious differences in vaccination rates.
Political will, regulation and equality were the nationwide factors that had the biggest impact on progress in vaccination. Supply of healthcare systems with materials and staff was an integral but insufficient factor in rapid immunization of populations. Promotion of vaccination campaigns was also defined by the coordination and distribution of powers between central and local authorities. Relevant data for organizations and immunization campaign management were serious stimulating factors. Locally, negative perceptions of vaccination and infodemic hampered progress towards scheduled rates even in well-resourced and well-organized campaigns.
The EU’s belated and inadequate response to the pandemic crisis in 2020 reinforced the “national focus”, leading to full change of power in some countries, such as Italy, preparation for such change in others like Germany, and to increased own weight and influence in France, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. Government miscalculations at the stage of commissioning vaccines, corruption and political scandals in procurements, shortsightedness in determining groups coupled with poorly-thought, chaotic and non-cautious communication by top politicians were the key challenges, pushing governments to change their initial vaccination plans. Amidst the rapid deterioration of the epidemiological situation and the EU’s feeble response to the calls to ensure fair distribution of vaccines, the governments of new member-states opted for vaccination strategies with non-EU-certified Russian and Chinese vaccines that were more risky from the security and political perspectives. These and other national factors further highlighted the divide between old and new EU member-states.
In terms of the pace of vaccination, the countries that ensured timely and reliable vaccine logistics and managed to communicate the need to get vaccinated against COVID19 are on the winning side. In turn, the span of vaccination is closely intertwined with the economic mood and business expectations, while doubts about the government’s ability to ensure timely immunization fuel scepticism about long-term economic recovery. Post-pandemic expectations are of serious interference of economic policies in private spheres of the citizens, huge public and private debt, and deeper social inequality between and within nations. The cumulative effect of the COVID19 pandemic shows that people are frustrated with their governments as a result of vaccination campaigns, and with the EU overall, which leads to threats for its stable future.
On dealing with staff and logistics limitations
The practices of all countries researched shows that having a well-developed infrastructure and sufficient material supply for vaccination does not necessarily guarantee the fulfillment of vaccination plans unless organizational and management controversies are resolved. This is relevant for Ukraine. Logistical opportunities of the available infrastructure should be analyzed in advance to ensure a low-temperature chain of transportation and storage of specific vaccines, and options for delivering them to remote parts of the country should be thought through. The practices of Italy and France show how a vaccination campaign can be scaled up territory-wise with minimum expenses.
On providing up-to-date vaccine statistics
The experience of EU member-states showed how dangerous an information vacuum on procurements, sources and funding of vaccines can be for managerial decision-making, and how much it can contribute to the spread of rumors and speculations. Providing open-access data on vaccine procurements that is not commercial secret will reinforce trust. Ongoing monitoring of side effects is worth an extra effort. France’s experience can be helpful here.
On coordination of efforts by stakeholders
It is important to coordinate and join efforts of central and local authorities, and engage the public in decision-making and correction of actions, especially when it comes to communicating information, understanding local sentiments and nuances. The experience of Italy and France in coordinating adjustments to non-medical vaccination needs (vaccinedromes) between central and local authorities is worth looking at. The use of military objects for vaccination of civilians in EU member-states is worth looking at too.
On dealing with vaccine scepticism and increasing confidence and trust in vaccines
It is important to design and consistently implement a proactive and well-planned communication strategy based on verified, useful information with infographics that are easy to understand. Bulgaria’s experience shows that a focus on young audiences is important in improving the awareness of immunization campaigns. Based on the experience of Germany and Italy, traditional postal services can be used to inform the populations in remote areas of the country.
Creative approaches of some EU member-states like Romania and Poland to encouraging people to get vaccinated are worth analyzing. Simplifying the mechanisms of financial compensation for side effects of vaccination adds to the confidence and makes people feel more protected and cared for by the state (Poland, Czech Republic).
As employees often trust employers far more than they trust governments or media, it is worth getting the support of the business sector in shaping a positive perception of the immunization campaign. In turn, companies can rally for the rights to accessible, equal and timely vaccination for their employees.
The experience of the EU countries analyzed — Romania and Slovakia — shows that Ukraine should develop and introduce educational programs for high schools and universities on the main themes of made-up COVID19 vaccination narratives and on preventing and overcoming the resulting disinformation.