After thousands of deaths, untold economic damage and a period in which our society has dealt with unprecedented damage, I expected to spend this week reflecting on the suffering of those connected to those in my personal life whose lives have been impacted by the pandemic.
What I did not expect to experience, however, was an anger with regards to the European Union that I never expected would ever enter my mind.
There has been huge amounts of criticism of Governments across the world regarding their handling of the pandemic and this is as true for own Government as any. It locked down too late, spent billions on a Test and Trace service that proved to be useless and, in spite of their enduring sacrifices and hard work, still thinks NHS nurses are only worth a paltry 1 per cent pay increase.
One thing it did do, however, was to nail the vaccination process. More than half the UK’s population, some 27.6 million people, have now received at least one dose of a vaccine.
The roll-out has been a national triumph and one we can all be proud of. However, despite this herculean effort, we are now faced with a fresh crisis as the EU threatens to block the delivery of vaccines to our shores.
Politicians from EU member states have engaged in some of the most shameful and disingenuous conduct I can remember in the modern history of the West, spreading mendacious, malicious and deeply damaging untruths about the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
In spite of numerous clinical agencies worldwide giving it the green light, including the EU’s own European Medicines Authority, several European countries halted its use altogether.
As late as last week EU member states were telling its citizens the AZ jab was potentially unsafe, all this despite more than 20 million people across the UK and Europe having received the jab, with only a miniscule number of cases of side effects reported.
There has of course been a U-turn but the damage is done. Polling today shows 61 per cent of people in France think the AZ jab is unsafe. In Germany that figure is 55 per cent and in Spain 52 per cent. Make no mistake, the spreading of pseudo-science by Governments of supposedly world-leading nations has poisoned the minds of millions and will, almost certainly, lead to thousands of avoidable deaths. Shameful does not even come close to describing these actions.
I cannot speak for the leaders, health ministers and regulators who engaged in this disgusting misinformation but I can point to statistics that might show what has been on their minds.
In short, the EU is in crisis when it comes to vaccinations, a state of play of its own making and which, as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman revealed “fundamental flaws in the continent’s institutions and attitudes”.
Adjusted for population, the UK has vaccinated three times the number of its citizens that either France or Germany has managed, something it could not have done as an EU member state. The EU’s cumbersome approach saw it drag its heels on signing deals. Indeed, the UK signed its deal with AstraZeneca three entire months ahead of the EU, as the latter held out for a better price.
One of the worst things about wanting to remain in the referendum was having to defend the EU. While I recognised the benefits our membership brought, I abhorred its lack of accountability and its bullying of nations such as Greece into accepting bailouts which will cripple their economy for generations.
When the UK voted to leave the EU I was disappointed. I respected and never challenged the result but always I felt we would have been better off as a member.
A single issue should never inform such a complex argument. But as the EU threatens to “forbid” delivery of vaccines we paid for to make up for its own shortcomings, and as its member states continue to spread lies that cost lives, I cannot deny that for the first time part of me is now glad we left.