As the EU foils its vaccine rollout, authorities in Brussels look for a villain. They think they have been found in the vaccine company AstraZeneca.
Instead of allowing countries to negotiate their own vaccine contracts, the European Commission handled the purchase of the entire block in the name of solidarity. Brussels thwarted this process, and now union members are getting together.
Europe, America and the UK have orders or options for approximately the same number of doses per person. But the US and the UK increasingly took security contracts, which made it easier for pharmaceutical companies to prepare. According to British analytics firm Airfinity, Washington and London also spent almost seven times per capita development, production and procurement. Some US states face distribution challenges like many European countries, but American and British regulators approve vaccines faster than their EU counterparts.
The results are already clear. By our deadline Thursday, the UK had dosed more than 11% of residents, with the US reaching 8%. Denmark was a European success story at 3.7%, while France and Sweden were around 2%.
This has not inspired much reflection in Brussels. EU mandarins spent this week telling AstraZeneca that the company announced that issues with production at the European factory meant it would save at least tens of millions this quarter. The European Commission on Wednesday ordered raiding the production site of AstraZeneca in Belgium.
“Europe at the time wanted to supply at least Britain, even though the contract was signed three months later,” Pascal Soriot, head of Astra Zeneca, told an Italian newspaper this week. “So we said, ‘Well, we’re going to do our best, we’re going to try, but we can’t contract because we’re three months behind from the UK”
European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the contract required that vaccines be transported from UK factories to Europe. The company should publish the agreement and tell the public judge who is telling the truth. But this ugly episode is a good advertisement for Brexit.
By the way, London offered an opportunity to advance to the AstraZeneca vaccine in December. German officials ruled on Thursday that the vaccine should not be given to people over the age of 64, and the EU’s decision is not expected until Friday.
Brussels will soon give national governments the power to block millions of vaccine doses exported from Europe. Such sanctions will certainly backfire, as other countries retaliate against Europe and complex supply chains break down.
Brussels has demonstrated its unique habit of self-foot-shooting, turning its crisis of vaccine inefficiency into deep economic losses. After decades of epidemics, the European Union’s paramount challenge will be to revive economic growth despite policy mismanagement. Yet nothing is said to be like “off for business” annoying companies that provide life-saving medical treatment.
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