The calls started in December when the United States (US) was prepared to give its first jabs of the COVID-19 vaccine. It became clear back then that the European Union was behind a couple of weeks and its leaders needed to see and learn from what their American counterparts were doing. The questions were similar, for the French President Emmanuel Macron, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo.
“What have you done?” The American vaccine czar, Dr Moncef Slaoui, remembered that he was requested on the calls. “What do you believe we have missed?” Ever since the rollout divide between Europe and the US has expanded, and a lethal third wave of viruses has struck some of the country’s worst hit in the early pandemic, the tensions have risen.
The lockdown is back in France, large areas of Italy, and other territories. About twenty thousand Europeans die every week of COVID-19. The continent has experienced more vaccine doubts as a result of a fear of blood clots and brain bleeds that this week brought the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine briefly to a halt. Although, a majority of the EU nations continued to use it after Europe’s leading drug regulator asserted its protection, the public faith in the shot was badly affected.
For the time being, vaccine salvation seems tantalizingly far with just 10% of Europeans being given their first injection, compared to 23% in the United States and 39% in the United Kingdom.
There isn’t only one person to blame. Instead, a series of minor actions have resulted in longer wait times. Contract negotiations with drugmakers were relatively late for the bloc. In approving certain vaccinations, the country’s regulators were careful and deliberate. Europe also made bets on vaccines that didn’t work out or had production problems. Local attempts were also stymied by national governments’ bureaucracies.
But the most important explanation, which has plagued the bloc for months, is metaphysical as well as practical. In the United States, European regimes are often regarded as free-spending, economic bastions. This time, though, it was Washington who lavished billions on pharmaceutical companies and lavished security on their operations. Brussels, on the other hand, took a cautious, cost-cutting stance that generally ignored the free economy. It has already paid for it.
They thought that merely contracting to procure doses would suffice, according to Slaoui, who was hired by President Donald Trump to expedite vaccine production. In reality, becoming a full, active participant in the manufacture and production of the vaccine was critical and to do so as soon as possible.
In short, the result is the same today as it was in December, according to Slaoui. The bloc shopped for vaccinations as if it were a regular client. The US effectively entered into a commercial partnership with drug companies, investing even more in vaccine research, monitoring, and manufacturing.
The European Union proposed a tighter, six-week Export Inspection Regulation lately, which would help it deal with the supply scarcity of marred inoculation attempts in the Member States, after months of bickering with the UK-Swedish vaccine maker, AstraZeneca. The new law aims to make the sale of the block-produced vaccines more difficult and is expected to have a detrimental effect on supply to Britain with the country facing the third surge.
Criticism is being made against provocative policies from both within and outside of the European Union, with experts arguing that a moratorium on supplying vaccines will threaten foreign supply chains at a crucial moment in international attempts to stop Covid-19.
What is the EU’s plan?
According to the scheme proposed on Wednesday, the EU exports will be controlled by factors such as how the country of destination falls with the coronavirus treatments and what are the products linked covid exported by the destination country to the 27-member bloc.
The regulations apply to all vaccine manufacturers but are mainly aimed at AstraZeneca who, although contractually bound, are to blame for the EU’s failure to meet its inoculation targets, while fulfilling the set targets in the United Kingdom.
The current mechanism must give greater clarity in terms of imports and a full understanding of what is happening outside of the EU to help prevent the possibility of circumventing the laws’ according to Valdis Dombrovski, Vice-President of the European Commission. Dombrovskis, lashing out at AstraZeneca, said “In the first quarter of the year they committed to providing the EU with 120 million doses. They promised to deliver 30 million doses, but as of today, the count of deliveries is not even close to that figure”.
The EU will implement the new system six weeks after it enters into force provided the same is accepted as the plan in the scheduled meetings.
Vaccine shortages in the EU
The EU is embroiled in a bitter controversy about delays in the manufacture and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to its member states.
In contrast to other affluent countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, several member states have accused Brussels of being sluggish in finalizing negotiations with pharmaceutical firms to guarantee vaccine rollout. This has put a lot of pressure on the European Union leadership because other wealthy countries have far outpaced the European Union in their vaccination campaigns.
In Israel, about 60% have received at least one injection of the vaccine, 40% in Great Britain, and more than 25% in the US, according to the Our World in Data publication. In contrast, the EU is just below 10%.
In January, the EU leadership weakened after AstraZeneca’s announcement that due to supply problems in Belgium and the Netherlands, it would deliver fewer than half of the number of vaccines promised by the bloc.
The EU has accused AstraZeneca of not complying with its block vaccination deal and blamed he pharma compnay for the giving preferential treatment to the UK.
Limitation of EU exports
To satisfy its constituents, the EU has made a series of unpopular and knee-jerk decisions since then. After threatening to ban vaccine exports to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom using Article 16, an emergency clause of the newly negotiated Brexit treaty, the EU made a humiliating U-turn in late January. Following AstraZeneca’s declaration of the dramatic supply reduction, the EU introduced an export protection mechanism that allows pharmaceutical firms to request approval from the bloc before selling and grants Brussels the authority to suspend exports if the companies are found to have breached contractual obligations.
So far, though, the power to avoid one out of 381 shipments leaving the bloc has been used– a load of more than 250,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, a nation where the epidemic of coronavirus in Europe is much less serious.
The proposed new rules are intended to strengthen and tighten up the same structure.
Responses to this proposal
The Governor of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said that vaccine-export curbs would affect the investments of EU countries that are implementing such restrictions. He also pointed out that any country planning to block and interrupt supply chains would invite chiding from the companies that might later on consider future actions and draw conclusions regarding their decision to make future investments in countries with arbitrary blockades.
Also, in the EU, there were concerns about how such a decision could damage the prestige of the bloc as a trading location based on laws, whilst others cautioned that a trade war could begin.
The Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan of the World Health Organization called the European Union’s plan a ‘self-defeating’ scheme, warning that any prohibition would ‘snowball’ into ‘uncontrolled.’ Dr Swaminathan emphasized the importance of international co-operation in vaccine rollouts to Christiane Amanpour of CNN. He claimed that the global death rates of 7,000-10,000 daily are “unnecessary and preventable” and can be prevented by spreading the vaccines worldwide.