In the race between vaccines and new variants of Covid-19, I am on the losing team. There is a simple reason for this, and it is because I live in the European Union, in my case, in Spain.
The UK, the US, Israel and other developed nations are so far ahead of us in this battle that the comparison no longer just hurts, it infuriates. Serbia is doing twice better, Morocco is doing better – to name just two other top performing countries.
The dismal performance of the EU became apparent to me this week when my twin sister received a first injection of AstraZeneca in Exeter, as those over 50 in Britain are vaccinated.
I would also have been vaccinated this week if I had lived in the UK, making me part of the vaccine-induced herd immunity drive that will prevent deaths, restart the economy and lower the cost for future generations. My older brothers and my 21 year old nephew with Down syndrome have also been vaccinated in the UK, but now I don’t expect to get my injections until June.
In fact, last week Madrid was struggling to vaccinate 80-year-olds who wanted, whose appointments were being canceled due to lack of doses. Nursing home residents and health workers (and some teachers and police officers) have been treated, but even less 10% Spanish they have received their first blow. La Vanguardia reports that, at the current rate, it will take until February to double the dose for 70% of Spaniards.
Only political incompetence can explain a series of mistakes that will be paid in human lives and economic damage across the EU.
That has now been compounded by this week’s temporary suspension of AstraZeneca jabs in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and elsewhere. Advice from the WHO and the European Medical Agency (EMA) to continue vaccinating was ignored while the New York Times reports that, for Spain and others, “the main motivation he was political”.
That suspension ended on friday in most places (not even next Wednesday in Spain) but the Conflicting messages from EU leaders have been hurting the launch for weeks, with Emmanuel Macron calling the AstraZeneca vaccine “almost ineffective”For those over 65 on the exact same day that the EMA approved it for those over 65.
So who should we rage against? The lack of vaccines is the fault of the European Commission, because it pushed to take over procurement across the continent and then failed in the task. AstraZeneca’s current delay is the fault of national leaders who decided, such as Italy’s drug agency director Nicola Magrini, he told the republic, that this “was a political election.”
Commission chair Ursula von der Leyen – herself a physician – and Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides bear the blame for the vaccine drought. They should have recognized that the normally slow and cautious commission was not up to the task of coordinating a massive and rapid vaccine procurement project for 450 million people.
Von der Leyen continues to insist that a wrestling would be “the end of our communityWhile at least one faster-moving member state, Hungary, is already sourcing vaccines elsewhere, and is getting ahead of the rest. However, there is no popular uproar about it in the rest of Europe, and I can only applaud such action.
His threat to block exports on Wednesday, with the EU already sending 41 million hits abroad (a quarter to the UK not reciprocally), would make more sense if the EU weren’t sitting on its supply of AstraZeneca. Australia, subject to a ban on the export of the same vaccine from Italy, must be furious.
In Spain, the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and his health ministers are to blame, since they are in charge of broad health policy while delivery is in the hands of the regional governments of Madrid, Catalonia and other places. Nor should they have ceded the hiring to Brussels.
Having first complained that AstraZeneca was not delivering enough, Europe is now stockpiling the vaccine. Spain is currently in more than 750,000 AstraZeneca doses, having used only half of its stock. Revelations in the Financial Times reveal that this has been coordinated in all EU capitals, who are concerned that fear of blood clots will damage the overall absorption of the vaccine. As an anecdote, all I can say is that the damage appears to be done, and politicians constantly fuel suspicions about the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The AstraZeneca freeze was always a lose-lose move. It will be paid for with Covid deaths and a later, slower return to normal.
Thanks to President Biden’s audacious $ 1.9 trillion stimulus and the rapid launch of vaccines in the country, the United States. it is predicted return to the pre-pandemic growth course next year, while Europe will take several years to get there. By the end of next year, the gap between us will have grown 6% due to our different responses from Covid.
The Spanish belief in the European project, which I have embraced alongside the recently acquired Spanish nationality, means that there have been few public complaints and no political fallout. However, that project won’t work if we don’t all yell and yell when it works as badly as it is now. Meanwhile, the Germans are furious. The tabloid Bild even ran a front page headline calling out to Britain: “We envy you.”
There were powerful arguments for pooling the vaccine effort, notably that this would avoid “vaccine nationalism” within the EU, but the delivery agency has proven inadequate.
The task is not easy, and an efficient Canada has typically had similar problems with the launch of the vaccine. And we’ve seen issues emerging in the UK this week over the next vaccine supply. It is also true that, in general, EU countries it has been much better in control of Covid-19 than the US or the UK. That lead may soon be lost, however, as France returns to lockdowns, cases skyrocket in Italy, and Spain also experiences a new spike, all before vaccines can do much to dent progress.
We Europeans should also check our privilege. Most of the planet is far behind us when it comes to vaccines. However, as valuable vaccines are stored, that privilege only becomes more stark, as no one benefits. If you don’t hand it over, give it to someone who will.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism