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Why isn’t Europe joining the U.S. and UK rush to vaccinate for COVID-19?

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(Jacob King/Pool via AP)
Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020.

Nations around the world are hurrying efforts to vaccinate for COVID-19. The United States announced Friday that it will be granting an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, three days after the United Kingdom became the first Western nation to begin vaccinations.

The European Union, by comparison, has declined to expedite its vaccination plans. The European Medicines Agency, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision, and monitoring of medicines in the EU, is continuing to study the new vaccine with plans to authorize its distribution in Europe in the final days of December.

Though it is losing the race to be first to provide vaccinations, the EU may be implementing the best overall strategy—medically and economically—for the COVID-19 pandemic, says Mai’a Cross, the Edward W. Brooke professor of political science and international affairs at Northeastern.

The EU will face enormous challenges distributing the vaccine throughout its bloc of 27 independent countries, which represent a wide variety of cultures and perspectives. Recent surveys have shown that large numbers of Europeans are skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines—although they’re not as polarized as Americans, of whom only half say they are looking forward to receiving the vaccine (while one-fourth say they don’t want it at all).

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