Europe’s bungled rollout of coronavirus vaccines makes it likely that the United States will be the first big Western nation to eliminate the Covid-19 pandemic, German immunologists told Asia Times in interviews this week.
Although Germany showed much lower infection and mortality rates during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Europe’s failure to source and distribute vaccines on a scale sufficient to dent the pandemic gives the United States a clear lead.
The US is vaccinating its population at three times the rate of France and Germany, according to the Our World in Data website. The only country acting faster is the United Kingdom, with a daily vaccination rate of 0.5 doses per 100 people.
A combination of vaccination and past infection may immunize two-thirds of America’s population against the virus by the middle of 2021, one German virologist explained. That should be sufficient to give America “herd immunity,” slowing the future spread of the virus to very low levels.
With 25 million confirmed cases and over 150,000 new cases per day, the United States will have more than 50 million inhabitants with resistance to the virus due to past exposure.
The US has vaccinated 20 million people in under four weeks, and at the present rate of six million vaccinations per week, an additional 170 million Americans will be resistant by the end of the second quarter of this year.
By that projection, 220 million of America’s 330 million inhabitants, or two-thirds of the total, will be resistant, and America will achieve herd immunity.
Virologists believe that “herd immunity” will be achieved when somewhere between 43% and 60% of the population becomes resistant to COVID-19.
This advantage, to be sure, came at a high price. America has had 1,300 deaths per one million inhabitants during the past year, exceed only by the UK (at 1,471 deaths), Italy (at 1,431 deaths), and Belgium (at 1,791 deaths) among the major industrial countries.
And the US has the highest proportion of confirmed cases per population of any large country. The high rate of past exposure contributes to future immunity.
The United States is acting aggressively to source the RNA-messenger vaccine that appears most effective in reducing the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, a series of mishaps have undermined Europe’s vaccine program.
Although the Messenger RNA vaccine was invented at BionTech’s labs in Germany, manufacturing delays at a Belgian plant operated by BionTech and Pfizer delayed supplies, while AstraZeneca will make only 30 million of the 80 million doses it had promised for February and March due to production problems.
The European Community bureaucracy meanwhile failed to approve vaccines quickly while the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed pushed approvals through.
America appears relatively well supplied with vaccine. In a news release earlier today, “Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE today announced a second agreement with the US government to supply an additional 100 million doses of the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine from production facilities in the US.
This agreement brings the total number of doses to be delivered to the US to 200 million. The companies expect to deliver the full 200 million doses to Operation Warp Speed (OWS) by July 31, 2021.”
Control over the pandemic will be the decisive factor in relative growth rates. Last year the US economy probably shrank by nearly 6%, while China grew by 2.3%. The International Monetary Fund forecasts US growth for 2021 at 5.5%, compared to 3.5% for Germany and 4.2% for the Euro Area as a whole. By contrast, the IMF expects China to grow by 8.1%, and many private forecasts are higher.
Germany’s economy appears harder hit than America’s by Covid-19. The mobility data published by Google based on the density of smartphones in economic activity show that retail activity in Germany is 60% below normal, vs. about 25% below in the United States. Workplace mobility in both countries is about 30% below normal.
East Asia, including China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan, used a combination of harsh lockdowns, social discipline, and technology to bring the pandemic under control. The death rate from Covid-19 in those countries is in the order of a hundredth of the rate in the US and the worst-hit European nations.
If the US achieves herd immunity, though, it may be entirely free of the virus – barring the appearance of new strains that overcome existing antibodies – while East Asia will remain at risk.