The EU’s Vaccine Policy – A Failure From the Start | Kieran Burt
The EU’s vaccine policy so far has been a disaster. The lastest display of this comes as it threw a temper tantrum at the UK because of a misperception the country was stealing the EU’s vaccines. It dealt with this misperception in the most embarrassing way possible, nearly causing a trade war over vaccines, putting the safety of Northern Ireland at risk, and uttering political jabs at Astra-Zeneca instead of actual jabs for their citizens. However, the EUs vaccine misery started long before now.
Earlier in the pandemic, the EU created a vaccine scheme, where the European Commission, not the member states, would negotiate in order to get vaccines. It would help to distribute them across member states and help pay for the cost for them. This scheme was initially proposed as a measure to stop European states fighting each other for vaccine supplies, and to give the smaller EU states a fairer chance at getting vaccine supplies. Through the Commission exercising this power, I’m sure that the Commission wanted to demonstrate health competency to take further power away from the nation state. This idea has failed.
The UK was approached to join but took the right decision and did not. This was despite intense criticism, with several outlets claiming that the impact of Brexit would slow down the UK’s access to vaccines. How laughable this is now. The UK was able to order its doses of vaccines much sooner than the EU without the bureaucracy, meaning that we put ourselves at the front of the queue. The merits of this approach is demonstrated through our current success, with over seven million people having received at least one vaccination dose.
The EU however, ordered vaccines far behind the UK. 3 months after the UK they finalised a deal with Astra-Zeneca and it took them until November until a deal was finalised with Pfizer. Pandemics require speed and action to be dealt with, and it is clear that the EU sat on their laurels to buy vaccines, even as successful ones were becoming clear.
The Commission also failed to adequately represent its member states effectively. Germany was unhappy with the number of Pfizer vaccines that was negotiated, despite a higher number being left on the table. This resulted in Germany making its own side deal with Pfizer for 30 million extra doses, despite this directly contradicting the terms of the Commission’s scheme. The EU deliberately ignored this clear violation, as it would expose a serious failure in its process. Germany regularly touts the benefits of a joint approach, however that has shown to be mere words.
Hungary has also moved away from a joint approach. It has approved both the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and the Chinese Sinopharm dose. It has also approved purchases from both countries, citing the need for more competition. However, the European Medical Agency (EMA) has so far not approved either vaccine for wider EU use, nor the EU does have a deal in place to purchase the vaccines from either country. This shows that the slowness of the EU to provide vaccines from more reliable sources has made its members turn to other, less trustworthy buyers.
To compound the EU’s slowness problem was the EMA refusal to allow a quick approval. Both the UK and the US government approved the Pfizer doses in a quick and safe manner, to allow for the saving of lives. The EMA could have approved the vaccine at a similar speed because the UK used emergency provisions found in EU law to speed up the approval process. However, they chose not to do this, thus wasting time that could have been used for delivering jabs.
The nail in the coffin for their vaccine approach however has been their spat with Astra-Zeneca. When they reported that there would be a slowdown in production due to the need for maintenance, the EU responded only with fury. The UK plants were not experiencing the same slowdown, so why us? Astra-Zeneca responded with the reasonable answer that because the UK had ordered its doses quicker, the planned maintenance was able to go ahead much sooner and thus not affect vaccine creation. This answer was rejected, due to some notion that Astra-Zeneca was favouring the UK. The EU started to demand that some of the doses to the UK plant be diverted to the EU, despite the fact the company was contractually obligated to supply the UK with the required doses, and because they ordered first then they were required to complete that order first.
That is also reasonable. First come first serve is a well respected norm in pretty much all places. Not to the EU. They “reject the logic of first come first serve”. The EU persisted with the ridiculous demand that the UK help them sort their problems, despite the fact we are not part of their bloc or vaccine scheme so have no reason to. While the EU is our ally and neighbour, contracts that were signed months in advance of theirs must be used for UK citizens, as is their intended purpose. The EU would not be forthcoming with help if the UK’s vaccination strategy were failing.
The most ridiculous part is, due the slowness of the EMA, as previously mentioned, the Astra-Zeneca jab hadn’t even been approved for use at the time of the row. It couldn’t even be used. The EU were just lashing out at the British made vaccine to cover for shortages in Pfizer and Moderna ones. This is humiliating.
The next stage of this is that EU politicians took to trashing the vaccine, in order to play the “we didn’t even need your help anyway” card. In a press conference, Macron criticised both the efficacy of the jab, and the UK’s rollout strategy. This is despite France’s strategy going backwards, with them cancelling appointments due to a lack of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Germany sought to discredit the Astra-Zeneca jab as well, with the country only recommending the jab for under 65s, claiming a lack of data. This is outrageous. The Oxford vaccine clearly effective in elderly people. This was just an underhand move to discredit UK work over German work.
Once the Astra-Zeneca jab was approved by the EMA on the 29th of January, the finale to the current saga of vaccine disorder played out. The Commission decided that because of the need for “transparency”, they would impose export controls on vaccinations going to other countries. To add insult to injury in the UK, Article 16 was activated, meaning that a hard border could be imposed in Ireland. This destructive, Trumpian move blatantly ignored the stark warnings about the return of a hard border in Ireland, warnings that the EU themselves gave! Nor Ireland or the UK were told this was coming, showing that Ireland is just a tool for the Commission to get what it wants. Thankfully, in a humiliating climb down, the controls were quickly reversed. But it shows the EU does not respect the delicate situation in Ireland when it tries to save face.
This whole sorry saga further shows the incompetence of Ursula Von Der Leyen. According the The Telegraph, Von Der Leyen took personal control of the EU’s vaccine policy. When looked at with her previous failings as German Defence Minister, it would not be surprising if this were true. Right from the start, the EU’s vaccine policy has been nothing but a failure. For the safety of EU citizens and quite frankly UK citizens too, she should resign now.