Vaccine shortage: EU only has itself to blame – Bill Carmichael

THERE was another depressing statistic released this week with the news that the UK death toll from the Covid pandemic has passed 100,000 – a terrible tragedy for all concerned.

But on a brighter note, at least there is finally some glimmer of light at the end of this long dark tunnel. I refer to the vaccine rollout, which is progressing fantastically well in the UK, with more than seven million doses administered, putting us streets ahead of comparable Western countries.

Only much smaller nations, such as Israel and the United Arab Emirates, can top the UK in terms of doses administered per head of population, and the scientists tell us that this mass immunisation programme offers the best hope of leading us out of this lockdown nightmare.

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We can be justly proud of this achievement and everyone concerned – from the scientists who developed the vaccine, to the regulators who approved it in double-quick time, to the people manufacturing and distributing it, and the front-line medical staff administering it – all deserve a hearty pat on the back.

Royal Navy personnel prepare to give vaccines to the public at a coronavirus vaccination centre set up at Bath Racecourse.
Royal Navy personnel prepare to give vaccines to the public at a coronavirus vaccination centre set up at Bath Racecourse.

Perhaps the politicians, who have hardly covered themselves in glory in recent months, can take a small bow as well? Make no mistake, a programme like this is difficult to get right and very easy to get disastrously wrong.

For example take a look at the European Union, where the roll-out has turned into a disaster. The problems began last May when the UK government reached a deal with AstraZeneca to supply the vaccine while the EU wasted time squabbling over whether the drug should be supplied by German or French factories.

So tardy was the EU response that the following month four member states – France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands – broke ranks with the EU and formed the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance to broker a deal similar to the one achieved by the UK.

But as soon as the European Commission – unelected and unaccountable, don’t forget – heard of this development they pulled rank and demanded the Alliance abandon the proposed deal and hand over all future negotiations to the Commission.

The Covid vaccine programme has escalated into a bitter war of words between Britain and the EU.

There followed a further two months of talks before the Commission and AstraZeneca finally signed a deal in August that was virtually identical to the one on offer in June. The inevitable consequence of these avoidable delays is that there is now a shortfall in supplies of the vaccine to the EU because of problems in European factories.

Pascal Soriot, the French chief executive of AstraZeneca, was clear where the blame for this lies: “The UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal. So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced. As for Europe, we are three months behind fixing those glitches.”

A pro-EU source at the company told journalist Robert Peston: “I understand Brexit better now.”

The German government has reacted to this with childish stupidity by doubting the efficacy of the vaccine and threatening to stop further exports to the UK. What all this shows is that when it comes to major global threats, such as a pandemic, the insular, small-minded, petty nationalism that characterises the EU is simply not fit for purpose.

Britain's vaccine rollout programme has been hailed as a success.

The virus doesn’t acknowledge international borders, and it doesn’t care whether the vaccine is manufactured in France, Germany, the UK or Timbuktu.

What matters is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible in all countries, and the EU delayed that, costing thousands of lives, simply because they wanted to show who is boss.

In a functioning democracy anyone who performed as abysmally as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen would be out on her ear. But the EU doesn’t work like that. The citizens of Europe cannot vote the Commission out of office, because they never voted them into office in the first place!

In sharp contrast if you don’t like the way Boris Johnson has handled the crisis, you can show your displeasure at the ballot box.

Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

What this episode shows is that agile, independent nations, working in friendly co-operation with each other, are vastly superior to a sclerotic bureaucracy whose main priority is not the welfare of its citizens but its own survival.

As I find myself saying 50 times a day: “Thank God we have left!”

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