Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission since 2019, stated on the 15th September 2021 in her speech in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg that more than 70 percent of the European adult population were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This claim turns out to be true.
Every September the President of the European Commission gives a speech on the State of the Union. Von der Leyen talks about the achievements of the past year as well as the current priorities and challenges for the upcoming year. Besides climate change and migration, the way the EU handled the pandemic was one of the biggest topics.
As the press officer of the European Commission confirms, von der Leyen refers in her speech to numbers published on the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker which gives an overview on the vaccine development in the European Union (EU) and the European Environment Agency (EEA). It is commissioned by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The ECDC is an agency of the European Parliament that was founded in 2005. Apart from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) it is the second most important health institution in the EU.
Every EU member state must report to the Vaccine Tracker
The Vaccine Tracker’s data is curated through The European Surveillance System (TESSy). The ECDC refreshes their data on a regular basis from Monday to Friday at 11 AM. Every country of the EU or the EEA must report all accessible vaccination data at least twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to the ECDC. In the statistics, the number of doses administered to the total population are divided by the size of the corresponding population. In addition to the Vaccine Tracker, ECDC publishes a weekly report on the epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA to ensure transparency. Besides accumulated data and figures the report predicts the further course of the pandemic. The report that refers to the week before von der Leyen’s speech (12th September 2021) records 71.3 percent of fully vaccinated people aged 18 years and older. Thus, Ursula von der Leyen quotes the primary source correctly.
Our World in Data confirms vaccination rate
As already stated, the ECDC is an official agency that distributes their data to other health institutions, which is why it was difficult to find an independent secondary source that didn’t work with or was closely connected to it. Such a source is Our World in Data. The online publication informs about the development in the world and the problems that occur in it. The platform was founded in 2011 as a collaborated effort between the University of Oxford and the non-profit organization Global Change Data Lab.
Edouard Mathieu, Head of Data at Our World in Data since 2020 and former data scientist at the University of Oxford, comments with own calculations on the number of fully vaccinated adults in the EU/EEA: “According to our latest data, there were 272,360,373 people aged 12+ fully vaccinated as of 15th September 2021.”
Our World in Data uses figures provided by country-specific public official sources. The vaccination data is updated daily and visible to the public on GitHub. In contrast to the ECDC, the online publication doesn’t evaluate the number of fully vaccinated people above the age of 18, but above 12. Because of that, Mathieu utilizes the figures provided by Our World in Data to estimate whether the numbers of fully vaccinated adults in the EU by the ECDC is correct.
He explains his calculations as follows: “According to the latest data by the United Nations, there are 392,632,000 people aged 12+ who live in the EU. That gives us a share of full vaccinations of 69.4 percent for individuals aged 12+ in the EU. Given that the 12–17 group should be the least vaccinated among them (with the vaccine being authorized much more recently for teenagers), it is therefore a safe bet to say that the percentage of full vaccinations for adults in the EU was above 69.4 percent on Sep 15, and therefore probably at least 70 percent.”Edouard Mathieu, Head of Data at Our World in Data
The difference between the result of Mathieu’s calculations and the numbers of the ECDC can be explained by the varying age groups used in the tracking of vaccinated people. Furthermore, on the 28th May 2021 the EMA approved the COVID-19 vaccines for the age group above 12, which was much later than for adults. The official recommendation to vaccinate minors took place months later, depending on the EU country. For instance, the Ständige Impfkommission (STIKO) made this announcement on the 16th August 2021 in Germany. Even if the calculations of Eduard Mathieu differ slightly from the numbers used by Ursula von der Leyen in her speech, he reviews her statement as “correct”.
In short, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen claimed on the 15th September 2021 in her annual speech on the State of the Union in front of the European Parliament that more than 70 percent of the adult population in the EU were fully vaccinated. Von der Leyen correctly quotes the numbers from the ECDC COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker. With the help of his own calculations and figures, Edouard Mathieu, Head of Data at Our World in Data, comes up with at least 70 percent of fully vaccinated adults in the EU. Despite slight deviations in the numbers due to varying age groups the claim by von der Leyen is true.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Michelle Hänisch and Gina Kollig, Jade University of Applied Sciences Wilhelmshaven, Germany