By Anna Noble
Without a doubt, the most successful feature of the UK government’s coronavirus response has been the vaccine rollout. The New York Times reports that approximately 47% of the UK population have received at least one vaccine. By contrast, this has been the EU’s biggest failing, whilst Malta has vaccinated the highest percentage of their population with 32% major EU countries are lagging behind the UK are France (14%), Germany (12%), Spain (12%), Italy (13%) and the Netherlands (9.8%). This is having significant consequences with another wave of infections emerging across Europe resulting in new lockdowns including in France.
The EU’s latest row with AstraZeneca has also further stalled what was already a slow-moving vaccine drive and has risked creating a diplomatic crisis for the EU.
The EU also threatened this week to block exports to the UK due to the success of the UK’s vaccine drive
Dozens of EU nations suspended use of AstraZeneca vaccines after claims that it could be linked in a handful of cases to blood clot issues, the Netherlands this week issuing a new ban. AstraZeneca, the EU regulator and the UK disputed these claims citing that of the more than 17 million people they found just 37 reports of blood clot issues after having the jab, including 15 events of deep vein thrombosis and 22 events of pulmonary embolism. This crucially is less than would be expected to occur naturally within a population of that size. Furthermore, many medications approved and in use carry significantly higher risks of blood clots, including oral contraceptive pills which result in blood clots in approximately 1 in a 1000 people.
The EU has also renewed tensions with AstraZeneca oversupply issues have resulted in diplomatic tensions between the EU and third countries. AstraZeneca announced last month that it will likely only be able to deliver half of the supply it was contracted by the EU to deliver. The backlash from the EU has been significant. Alongside alleged ‘scaremongering’ over the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccine, the EU has also threatened to or seized shipments of AstraZeneca vaccines intended to be delivered to third countries. Three weeks ago, Italy blocked a quarter of a million vaccines from shipping to Australia. The EU also threatened this week to block exports to the UK due to the success of the UK’s vaccine drive. This prompted a furious reaction from British officials and as of the time of writing the EU have abandoned this idea in the hopes of a ‘win, win’ agreement with the UK.
However, the EU’s row with AstraZeneca appears little more than political theatre designed to find someone to blame for their own shortcomings. Emmanuel Macron admitted that the EU had misjudged when vaccines would be ready which was the first of a series of flaws in their vaccine strategy. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has also admitted a series of blunders including the delayed authorisation of vaccines. The disastrous rollout has provided Russia and China with an opportunity to score a “diplomatic victory” by dividing the EU, with many EU countries turning to them for vaccines. There are arguments that this could be politically difficult for the EU as if countries are relying on Russia and China for vaccines, they will potentially be less likely to criticise their human rights abuses.
The vaccine shambles and unfolding rows have rocked the EUs standing, with even internal publications admitting that the EU vaccine shambles is the best advertisement for Brexit. With Germany’s top-selling newspaper Bild publishing an edition with the front page translating as “Dear Britain we envy you”. It has also resulted in diplomatic difficulties that may result in a bitter backlash.
Image: Thijs ter Haar via Flickr
Disclaimer: all statistics used in this article were true of 5pm 5th April 2021.