In Depth

How the world responded to Britain’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Almost 140,000 people received Pfizer jab in first week of UK’s world-first mass immunisation campaign

The phrase “world beating” has been bandied about in countless debates about the UK’s Covid response, but rarely in the complimentary way that Boris Johnson may have envisaged.

The unbeatable system to test, track and trace the coronavirus that the prime minister promised back in May is still beset by glitches. But in becoming the first nation to roll out a Covid vaccine, the UK can finally claim to be an international leader in fighting the pandemic.

A total of almost 138,000 people received the Pfizer-BioNTech jab in the week after the mass vaccination programme was launched on 8 December, dubbed “V-Day” by jubilant ministers. So how has the rest of the world responded to the vaccine triumph?

EU neighbours

Johnson’s public celebrations at becoming the first nation to approve the use of a coronavirus vaccine was mocked by some European leaders last week. Belgian PM Alexander de Croo led the jibes, tweeting an image of an EU flag and the words “Made in Europe” above a post by his British counterpart.

In recent days, however, European papers have been voicing dissatisfaction over the bloc’s slowness is green-lighting any of the vaccine candidates. An editorial in German tabloid Bild said it was “beyond belief” that Berlin was simply “standing and gawping” as a German-developed jab was rolled out in the UK.

Professor Paul Welfens, an economist at the University of Wuppertal, told the paper that Angela Merkel’s government had been “strangely arrogant” in refusing to approve the vaccine co-created by German firm BioNTech. 

Spanish newspaper El Pais said the EU had responded with “poorly concealed resentment” after the UK “launched the vaccine challenge in Europe”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes that the bloc’s leaders have “struggled to explain” why their citizens are still waiting for shots that are already being rolled out in the UK and the US.

Following a reportedly “heated” summit yesterday, EU chiefs have now committed to speeding up their regulatory processes.

EU Commission President Urusla von der Leyen had tweeted on Tuesday that the bloc was working “at full speed to authorise #COVID19 vaccines that are safe & effective”.

“Likely that the first Europeans will be vaccinated before end 2020!,” she added - prompting a flurry of replies noting that the first Europeans had already been vaccinated, in Britain.

Acknowledging that the UK has stolen the march on its European neighbours, Slovakian newspaper Pravda said last week that “the British are on fire”.

Not all of the European media coverage has been so complimentary, however.

In an apparent dig at Britain’s decision to go ahead under its own steam, Swiss paper Le Temps published a cartoon of the Queen being injected with the vaccine below a tattoo on her arm reading “Britain First”.

Special relationship

A mass vaccination campaign in the US kicked off yesterday, after regulatory approval of the Pfizer jab was confirmed last week.

“Front-line health workers and elderly patients will get the first three million doses,” Sky News reports. Hundreds of millions more doses have been ordered for arrival in the coming months.

The rollout comes amid widespread applause from US commentators for the UK effort.

The Washington Post says that “Britain won the West’s race for a coronavirus vaccine”.

The New York Times offers a slightly more backhanded compliment, noting that “experts are cautiously optimistic that the [UK] vaccine rollout will go better than the government’s earlier, fumbling efforts to address the pandemic”.

Outbreaks in “Britain left hospitals short of masks and gowns, and stumbled on testing and tracing”, the paper continues, but thanks to “extensive experience with organising mass immunisations”, the NHS should be “up to the task”.

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