With the furore over the EU’s handling of the vaccine rollout, and the bungling of Article-16 by the EU Commission, we thought we might try and balance the perspective by sending in some letters. A few got published!
Please throw a few supportive comments our way, or some thumbs up to other supportive comments!
UK’s health and economy unsafe until its neighbours are vaccinated against Covid
Clearly, what the EU did by briefly considering restricting vaccine movement into and out of Northern Ireland was an error, although it should be made clear this was never actually implemented. However it’s worth putting this in context of some recent events.
The cries of protest from senior Tories and the DUP are pretty hypocritical considering how silent they were when Boris Johnson threatened to deploy article 16 of the NI protocol only a few weeks ago. Then consider also how the govt were threatening to “disapply unilaterally” elements of the withdrawal agreement because they didn’t like them – a threat to break international law. Despite how unwise a course of action it was, the EU was acting wholly legally within the parameters of the deal we signed with it. Additionally, I think the speed with which the EU leadership U-turned is something to be commended, especially compared to our own govt which claims everything is fine right up until they must change course, often a week later and after the damage has already been done. Additionally, given the way the UK govt is choosing not to make a big stink about this, it’s clear to say they do not want this situation to escalate.
It’s easy to see things from the EU perspective. They paid for a huge quantity of vaccines, hundreds of millions of doses, and are now told there will be delays and their first shipment will be a fraction of what was promised, whilst vaccines made in Belgium are sailing over the Channel into the UK. The pharmaceutical companies perhaps oversold and under delivered, and have picked winners and losers, which leads me on to my next point.
The vaccines are a symbol of successful global cooperation. They were made with international teams, in labs across the world working together, and with huge investment from many parties, including both the EU and the UK. The real problem is that once the vaccines were ready to sell, this togetherness has evaporated and it’s become a political and economic game again. The EU has tried minimise this internally by buying as a group and then dolling the vaccines out: clearly it hasn’t gone smoothly, but it’s not been done before and they prioritised getting the best price over expediency: might seem a strange choice now, but in the lull of the summer with low case numbers perhaps seemed more sensible. The govts of the world should have clubbed together, bought the vaccines as a whole and distributed based on need (i.e. Numbers of elderly and at risk). This could have taken this global effort right to its natural conclusion.
Instead, particularly in the UK, we’ve made it a nationalistic issue. British jabs, in British arms. We funded the research: it’s British! We had a researcher work in some other lab, it’s British! We approved the vaccine first (regardless where it was made or researched): it’s now a British vaccine! And then paying over the odds (especially compared with the EU, that got a better price than us) to ensure we get first dibs. Sure it’s great for us, at least in the short term, but it just seems morally wrong to me that we should be vaccinating people in their 70s when many countries haven’t even finished vaccinating people who are 80+! Additionally, our health and our economy cannot be safe from the pandemic until our neighbours are also safe.Dr Sam Hollings
Danger of vaccine nationalism
“No, EU can’t have our jabs!” screamed the Daily Mail. In the week the UK marked 100,000 coronavirus deaths, brexit fanatic newspapers have grabbed onto this ‘defend-our-vaccines campaign’ to try to make a bogeyman of the EU once again, saying we could approve the vaccine faster because we’ve left the EU. However, we were still in the transition period, under Single Market rules until January and we were perfectly free to order the vaccine early then, just as any EU or EFTA countries were should they have chosen.
The underlying problem is vaccine nationalism itself, and the EU principle on this is not “We only have to do what is best for our country’, but ‘ Do what is best for all of our citizens as well, so we do this together”. That has taken time to agree, and the European joint medical sourcing processes need improving, but it is going in the right direction. You can’t stop a pandemic in one country alone. It’s not about being “world beating”, it’s about the whole world beating the virus. We need vaccines for all and this requires a global effort. Boris Johnson claims our early rollout of the AZ/Oxford vaccine as a British victory, yet there is no such thing as a “UK vaccine”. It’s a worldwide team effort – all Coronavirus vaccines are being developed through the international collaboration of scientists and tested in various countries. The EU gave £3billion in development funds towards the work. AstraZenica itself is an Anglo-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company with the role of producing and supplying the Oxford vaccine worldwide. Their production facilities operate in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Australia & USA among others. The first batch of UK jabs were cultured in Italy and manufactured in Belgium. So while Oxford University’s ground-breaking scientific development is worthy of celebration, it had huge global input and the vaccine has only been brought to us all due to AZ’s continental operations – a truly pan-European team effort of which we should all be proud.
Therefore we must say no to vaccine nationalism – vaccination is not a contest between countries. First world countries shouldn’t be scrambling to out bid poorer countries for first dibs on the vaccine. In a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. To this end the EU has exempted 160 of the world’s poorest countries from export bans on medical supplies during Covid. We need much more of this approach.
Even as the UK press screams blue murder at the EU, London and Brussels have been very quick to soften their tone and are now working out solutions together. The shame of it is, as full EU members we used to host the European Medicines Agency, and this row could never have happened then. Our own, very high standard British Medical Agency virtually set the tone for the whole of Europe. We need to turn towards more of that kind of cooperation and away from the kind of belligerent and potentially disastrous isolation advocated by our popular press. For all our sakes!Steve Rouse