EU on brink: Vaccine farce ‘predictable’ and it’s ‘naive to think it can be fixed quickly’

Coronavirus being over by summer is 'naive' says expert

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Brussels triggered an international row when it accused UK-based vaccine developer, AstraZeneca, of not meeting its contractual commitments and falling short of the promised jab supplies. The EU then started to push for the UK to provide some of its own supplies to the bloc. However, AstraZeneca reminded Brussels that, as it signed a contract three months after Britain, it was bound to suffer from more production delays.

The EU’s decision to temporarily evoke the emergency measure of the Brexit deal over the Irish border sparked international horror and demonstrated how vaccine nationalism is now a growing phenomenon.

While this AstraZeneca spat now appears to have been resolved — although the EU only has access to 40 million jabs rather than 80 million — additional problems with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines accessing the bloc have raised further concerns about how its handling the vaccine rollout.

Hosting BBC Radio 4’s ‘How to Vaccinate the World’, BBC journalist Tim Harford asked a panel of experts how “foreseeable” the production problems across Europe were.

CEO of scientific data firm Airfinity, Rasmus Bech Hansen, replied: “I think they were incredibly predictable and foreseeable.

“I think if you ask any vaccine expert who has dealt with scaling up production, is it even remotely likely that we will be able to supply the world by the first half of this year with enough vaccines — impossible.

“Even just the Western world, just not possible.

“To just give you a scale of the difference between what was promised and what we thought and what really happened — look at the end of 2020 and what the suppliers themselves said they were to produce.

“They said more than 800 million — that’s what the world expected, end of 2020.

“In reality, we had about 20 to 30 million doses produced.

“The difference is astounding.”

As Mr Harford noted, this was just two or three percent of the original quantity promised.

But, Mr Hansen clarified: “That’s not because the producers are deliberately misleading anyone.”

He said that the developers have a tendency to be optimistic when signing deals, especially when competing against 300 rivals.

He also praised the UK for engaging the private sector in its vaccine development, by conducting significant tests and checking the factories producing the jab.

However, Mr Hansen said he was not sure all other countries followed suit.

He claimed the EU saw acquiring the vaccines as a “procurement challenge”, and blamed this attitude for the bloc’s current situation.

He said they focused on negotiating the price and considering the liability of the product rather than thinking about the limitations of how many could actually be produced.

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Indeed, it is believed to be a Belgian plant which malfunctioned, leading to a delayed rollout of AstraZeneca across Europe.

Mr Hansen also said the optimistic projections may suggest most of the production issues may have been resolved by the summer for the Western world.

But, he noted that “we are quite naive” to think that it will cease to be a problem come summer.

He suggested 12 billion vaccines are needed by the end of this year to be even close to vaccinating the world.

Brussels did establish a vaccine procurement scheme in June 2020, which aimed to reduce costs and avoid competition between the different member states.

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All 27 nations joined, although some have continued to make bilateral arrangements outside of the bloc.

Hungary has promised to buy two million doses of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine.

However, this joint effort has been heavily criticised by vaccine developers.

The head of BioNTech Ugur Sahin, the company which cooperated with the Pfizer vaccine, claimed: “The process in Europe certainly didn’t proceed as quickly and straightforwardly as with other countries.”

The EU is still trailing behind the UK and the US in terms of vaccinations.

Britain has vaccinated 16.5 people per 100 according to Our World in Data from last week, while the US has vaccinated 10.6 and the EU just 3.3 out of 100 people.

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