Vaccine villains: who’s vying for victory?

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Before we start lambasting our governors in Westminster for their failure to recognise our position of privilege in being an island and not imposing stricter immigration laws; and before we unleash a torrent of scathing attacks, as well as more measured yet stronger academic arguments undermining Boris’ modus operandi, let’s praise our government. Even if for just a brief moment.

Why? Because we have secured enough doses of different vaccines (many working at an efficiency of over 90%) to inoculate our entire population many times over. So far, close to 13 million people have been vaccinated, and the government is on track to reach their goal of 15 million by mid-February. Meanwhile, the EU is struggling to get their vaccination rollout off the ground as production facilities in Belgium and the Netherlands have had major blows to their capacity. The UK is in a very good position right now. Having ensured that multiple AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine production sites are located in the UK, and having signed a deal with AstraZeneca three months before the EU, our vaccine task-force – which was set up under a year ago – is doing stellar work.

Whatever is going on inside the corridors of power in Brussels, it is a dismal performance at a time when a show of solidarity and strength is greatly needed.

However, there does seem to be a thorn in our backside, albeit a not-so-dangerous one. The EU is currently exerting pressure on AstraZeneca and the UK to cease giving the latter priority over the first 100 million doses produced, so that some can be diverted for EU members. The UK and AstraZeneca both claim their contracts entitle the UK to priority, and that AstraZeneca’s responsibility is to provide its “best reasonable efforts” to the EU. In response, the EU threatened to impose export bans on Dutch-produced vaccines destined for the UK (not all vaccines the UK has bought are UK-made). Shortly after the threats were made, the EU backtracked – a complete U-turn. After raising so much tension surrounding checks at the Irish border in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement during Brexit negotiations, it is utterly condemnable that the EU even toyed with this possibility (it has even given itself the right to change its mind on this decision, if deemed appropriate in the future).

There’s more. Other reasons exist as to why the EU vaccination programme has taken so long to get going. Firstly, the EU insisted all member states go through them for vaccines. It being a heavily bureaucratic institution, this was not a swift process. Second, hesitation to approve the vaccines as fast as the UK and US may have partly been in an effort to appease anti-vaccine sentiment, one too strong to ignore. Whatever is going on inside the corridors of power in Brussels, it is a dismal performance at a time when a show of solidarity and strength is greatly needed.

I am a remainer because I share the values espoused in the vision set forth for what the EU would be, but this is not the EU anyone was promised when signing up. Attempts at neighbouring states and pharmaceutical companies into compliance, being unashamedly hypocritical in violating the Good Friday Agreement (and in doing so also violating Ireland’s sovereignty), sluggish bureaucratic antics in the face of a global pandemic, and above all, doing this to save face, is reminding me of learning about the protagonist’s hubris in different plays during English lessons at school.

The EU has a lot of work to do on itself before it can start blaming others for its own lack of success. I fear this rocky start to our post-Brexit relationship with the EU may have gone off to a bad start.

Image: Marco Verch Professional via Flickr

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