Over the past year, the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic has done little to inspire envy or admiration among Europeans.

But that could be starting to change. Late Thursday, President Joe Biden directed states to open up coronavirus vaccines to all adults by May 1 – a glimmer of hope that stood in stark contrast to the state of the vaccine rollout across the Atlantic.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Saint-Mande, France on March 7. Bertrand Guay via Associated Press

The administration’s goal of allowing small celebrations on July 4 marks a point of departure from the trajectory of the pandemic in Europe, which hit a new roadblock this week when numerous countries halted use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid concerns that it could be linked to blood clots. Meanwhile, rising infection numbers have left Italy bracing for a new lockdown, and German health officials are warning that the country is witnessing the start of a third wave.

In France, where only around 6.4 percent of the population has received a first vaccine shot; commentators on Friday acknowledged that the United States was far ahead in vaccinations.

“It must be admitted that we feel all of America’s power in this vaccination campaign,” said a commentator on RTL, a French broadcaster.

Like other European countries, France has faced severe delays in vaccinating its population due to lagging supply and logistical challenges. The country also has some of the world’s most vaccine-skeptical citizens – another hurdle.


But there is growing resentment in Europe over the fact that the European Union has approved the export of millions of vaccine doses to other countries, including to U.S. neighbors Mexico and Canada, even as the Biden administration has blocked exports to its neighbors and to the E.U.

That discrepancy was the top story on the website of one of Germany’s papers of record, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, on Friday, in which a journalist commented that the U.S. export ban is “egoistical and outrageous,” even though he acknowledged that “the E.U. is having a very bad run with its vaccination campaign at the moment.”

Close to a dozen countries have stopped rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days, following reports that some people who received the shot developed blood clots afterward. Bulgaria on Friday became the latest nation to announce a pause, joining Italy, Denmark and Norway, among others.

Some countries have stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine altogether while investigations into possible side effects are underway, while others have only stopped administering the specific batch that prompted concerns. To date, European Union regulators have found no evidence that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is unsafe, and the World Health Organization said Friday that there was no reason to suspend use of the vaccine.

The delay is yet another blow to Europe’s vaccine rollout, which has been marred by shortages and delayed shipments, as well as fights over distribution. Meanwhile, some countries are again seeing caseloads rising to worrisome levels.

“We have clear signs: The third wave in Germany has already begun,” Lothar Wieler, who heads the country’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, told reporters this week.

Only 7.2% of Germany’s population has received an initial vaccine shot, compared with over 19% in the United States. An equally low share of Italians have received their first jab.

Italian media outlets reported on Friday that the government was expected to announce a third nationwide lockdown over the Easter weekend, highlighting the country’s struggle to drive down infection rates.

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