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Will the U.S. follow Europe into another COVID surge? | Editorial
Through much of the pandemic, the virus has struck — and re-struck — Europe before the United States.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, 55, is vaccinated on Friday with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Hopital díInstruction des Armees Begin, in Saint-Mande, on the outskirts of Paris.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, 55, is vaccinated on Friday with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Hopital díInstruction des Armees Begin, in Saint-Mande, on the outskirts of Paris. [ THOMAS COEX ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Mar. 25, 2021|Updated Mar. 25, 2021

The COVID-19 numbers are trending in the right direction. Cases per 100,000 residents across the country are about one-fifth of what they were in January. Deaths have taken a similar nose dive in the last two months. And the vaccination effort, while rocky and disjointed at times, has picked up steam, with an increasing supply promised for the coming weeks. But the crisis isn’t over, and it’s no time to get complacent. There are still too many new COVID cases and too many people dying. Just look at our European allies, many of which are experiencing another COVID wave.

The number of new cases in the 27 countries that make up the European Union peaked in November, fell into December, and bounced around in January. But in recent weeks they have shot up by nearly 70 percent, and appear to be headed higher. As of Wednesday, the 33.5 new cases per 100,000 residents was more than twice the daily rate in the United States. The EU’s death rate, which usually lags behind the case rate, has also moved higher in recent days. EU residents are currently dying from COVID at nearly twice the rate as Americans. None of that is good news.

Through much of the pandemic, the virus has struck — and re-struck — Europe before the United States. Previous surges haven’t hit Europe as hard as the United States, but Europe experienced the surges first. Should we be holding our breath this time? As they like to say in financial circles, past performance is not indicative of future results. And there are reasons to think we will buck the trend this time.

Yes, Europe has struggled recently with new variants of the virus that are more infectious and appear to be deadlier — and those variants are spreading in the United States. They could get out of control in this country and cause yet another surge in cases and deaths. But Europe has been hamstrung by a train wreck of a vaccine rollout. No matter what you think of how the government has handled vaccinations in this country, Europe got it worse. The European Union was slow to order vaccines, thanks in part to what appears to be too much concern about price, and slow to approve them for use in humans. And it didn’t order enough. Manufacturing problems in January didn’t help either, nor has the likely overblown issue of the AstraZeneca vaccine available in Europe causing blood clots in a small number of cases.

Europeans also appear more vaccine-averse than Americans. One study of attitudes toward common vaccines showed that 72 percent of North Americans agree that vaccines are safe, compared to just 59 percent of western Europeans and 40 percent of eastern Europeans. Residents who delay or forgo a COVID vaccine leave more unprotected targets for the virus to potentially infect and vaccine hesitancy will make it harder for the European Union to reach herd immunity.

The vaccination rates help illuminate why the United States might avoid mimicking Europe’s recent surge. As of Wednesday, the United States has administered 39 vaccine doses for every 100 residents, while the European Union was stuck below 15, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. Put another way, 25 percent of Americans have had at least one vaccine dose, compared to fewer than 10 percent of residents in Italy, Germany, France and Spain, the EU’s four most populated countries. Fewer vaccinated people leaves Europe more vulnerable. Or, if you prefer the bright side, the United States is in a better position to fight off the virus.

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Will the superior U.S. vaccination rate be enough to keep the country’s COVID numbers headed in the right direction? We won’t know for sure for a few weeks. All the more reason to keep playing it safe — and get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn.

By the numbers: U.S. and Europe

Covid cases*

European Union — 33.5 (per 100,000 residents)

U.S. — 16.2

United Kingdom — 8.2

Covid deaths*

European Union — 0.5 (per 100,000 residents)

U.S. — 0.29

United Kingdom — 0.13

*Based on a seven-day rolling average ending Wednesday.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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