Ross Clark Ross Clark

Why the EU’s vaccine strategy is failing

What a joy it would be still to be in the EU. We could, for example, be part of the bloc’s Covid vaccine-buying programme. Or maybe not, to judge by the German experience.

There has been a lot of comment in Britain regarding the relative slowness of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in approving the Pfizer vaccine – which led to the EU’s vaccine programme beginning two weeks after Britain’s. But that is a fairly minor issue. Far more concerning is the failure of the EU to buy enough vaccines to ensure that an effective inoculation programme can be completed before next winter. The reasons behind this failure are an object lesson in how the EU operates, and why we should be pleased to be organising our own vaccination strategy.

The EU’s handling of vaccine purchases compares poorly with that of the supposedly chaotic Trump administration

In June, the EU commenced a vaccine-buying programme which was supposed to ensure fair and equitable access for all 27 member states. It was hailed as an example of a benefit of membership of a large bloc – the EU could exercise its collective buying power while other countries, including Britain, would have to negotiate with much smaller buying power. In the early summer no-one knew which, if any, of the many vaccines under development would prove to be effective, and you couldn’t expect the EU to have backed all the right horses. But it is harder to forgive the lateness with which the EU commenced its vaccine-buying programme and how it was organised more around the needs of politics than around medicine. While the EU reserved some supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the summer it didn’t place any firm orders until November, after the results of the third phase trials showed it to be effective.

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