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Europe's Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign Off to Slow, Uneven Start

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Coronavirus vaccination campaigns are off to a slow start across much of Western Europe, sparking criticism of authorities and demands to pick up the pace as hundreds die and tens of thousands are infected each day.

France has inoculated more than 45,000 people in more than two weeks since European regulators authorized the first coronavirus vaccine, made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE . Belgium launched mass vaccinations on Tuesday, while the Netherlands gave its first inoculations on Wednesday. Vaccinations in Italy stalled over the holidays and have recently started to pick up.

The pace has placed those nations, among the world’s hardest hit by Covid-19, well behind the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. The U.S. has vaccinated more than five million people, the U.K. more than one million and Germany around 417,000. Israel has inoculated at least 16% of its population with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

French authorities have said the delay is partly due to the need to have at-risk populations, mainly nursing-home residents, consult a doctor and give their consent several days before the vaccine is distributed. Some governments didn’t bring forward their vaccination schedules after the region’s pharmaceutical regulator, the European Medicines Agency, accelerated its approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by a week last month.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday said he was “gnashing his teeth” during the holidays over the fact that the Netherlands was the last country in Europe to start vaccinating against the coronavirus. Mr. Rutte said authorities were caught by surprise when the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept in ultracold freezers and injected within days of being thawed, was the first to be approved.

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