When the European Union launched its vaccination campaign three months ago, the 27 member countries officially began on the same day, an initiative meant to show their unity as they battled Covid-19. This gesture of confident camaraderie now seems odd as EU countries tie together around a failed vaccine rollout. Each week seems to bring a new setback in jab plans, with delivery delays, security concerns and a failed administration all working together to slow the overall EU agenda.
Vaccination rates in the EU are only a fraction of those in Britain and are far behind what the bloc had hoped to be at this point. The EU has only caught 13 out of 100 people while Britain’s equivalent is 45 and the US is 38. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen continues to say that 70% of adults can be fully vaccinated by the end of summer, but at this rate it will be fine in 2022, when the EU hits its target.
As EU leaders gather for another summit on Thursday to find a way out of their mess, officials have turned on another wheeze to help them speed up the process: controlling vaccine exports. to countries like Great Britain and the United States. “We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use any tool we need to achieve that,” said Von der Leyen.
There is a brutal simplicity in the logic. The EU has so far exported 34 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, including 10 million to the UK, whose sufficient triumphalism over its deployment has been added to the already feverish post-Brexit era. These numbers have infuriated people across the EU as they imagine the block leaching doses to everyone. One official has warned the bloc shouldn’t be the pandemic’s “useful idiot” while others hoard and hide vaccines.
Britain does not export any vaccines and has artfully written clauses in its contract with vaccine maker AstraZeneca so that they are served before everyone else. As for the United States, it prioritizes domestic orders, drawing on the 70-year-old Defense Production Act, which gives it extraordinary powers over manufacturing in times of crisis. Why can’t the EU also use the tools at its disposal?
The argument for a more assertive European policy becomes stronger when the difficulties with AstraZeneca are raised. The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant delivered just 30 million of the 120 million doses promised, yet continues to provide an uninterrupted supply to Britain, even when sourcing from factories in the EU.
The case, however, becomes a bit more murky when other aspects of vaccine deployment in the EU, which have little to do with exports, are taken into account. Above all, the EU was too slow to engage with its suppliers last year. When they did, the common pot of 2.7 billion euros to secure 2.3 billion doses was too low – the United States had an $ 18 billion purse for its Operation vaccination program. Warp Speed.
The EU has also spent too much time haggling over the wrong issues, like prices and liabilities, rather than supply and timing, a misplaced strategy that even outspoken federalist MEP Guy Verhofstadt calls a “fiasco”. “. The EU’s approach now seems naive. The rush of last year was not a buyer’s market. Speed was key as countries competed for priority access to the vaccine queue.
These obstacles are part of the reason why the EU was already behind schedule when it finally started its deployment last December.
A number of European countries also face much higher levels of vaccine skepticism, fueling a low-risk regulatory approach. Anti-vaxxer sentiment is particularly hostile to the AstraZeneca jab, with millions of doses now unused in storage.
Earlier this month, fears of a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots led many countries to briefly halt its use, before the European Medicines Agency said its benefits outweighed its benefits. risks. A recent YouGov survey showed that less than half of Spaniards, Italians, French and Germans thought the vaccine was safe. Ironically, the EU’s thunder for a fair share of AstraZeneca blows comes when fewer Europeans want it.
AstraZeneca does little to help with its puzzling efficacy data. The EU’s caution was reflected in the United States this week, whose watchdog suggested AstraZeneca was looking to analyze data from the trials. The company needs to be clearer about the millions of doses produced at the Helix plant in the Netherlands or at the Anagni plant in Italy. The debacle of more than 29 million doses at the Italian plant shows just how tense things have become on all sides.
This explains the background to the European Commission’s plans to curb vaccine exports, targeting companies and countries that officials say are playing unfairly. It is based on understandable exasperation over the state of vaccine deployment and the feeling that Europeans are being played by underhanded countries.
But an export ban would be a clumsy response to an already miserable situation. The EU has been complacent, but it should also recognize its missteps and find better ways to redress the situation.
Vaccines have complex raw material supply chains, and some originate from countries targeted by the EU, such as Britain. An export ban could win around a week for the EU at best, but at worst it would trigger tit-for-tat retaliation, hurting everyone. This week, Micheál Martin, the Irish taoiseach, described such an approach as backward: “Once you start putting up barriers, other people start putting up barriers globally.” Pfizer’s vaccine required 280 materials from 86 suppliers in 19 countries, he said.
Instead of blaming the blame, the EU should focus on improving domestic production. There is good news about it. European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, expects nearly 400 million jabs in the next quarter, mainly from Pfizer (200 meters), with an additional 55 meters from Johnson & Johnson and 35 meters from Moderna. Boosting domestic supply will be essential in the long run, when the EU needs boosters to deal with variants.
In the meantime, the EU must keep its cool. The nervous mood throws up many bad ideas on how to speed up the vaccine rollout, which frightens people even more. The promised return to normal is taking longer than expected – but if EU leaders make the wrong decision, it could go on forever.