The EU is currently embarrassing itself. Name-calling, an endless blame game and pointing the finger at everyone and anyone, except for themselves to try and justify its irrefutably desperate vaccine rollout. Just this morning the EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders claimed that the UK wants to start a ‘vaccine war’ with Europe. The stark comparison between the UK and EU’s vaccination programme is nothing short of an embarrassment for the EU bloc. The UK has so far vaccinated 7.4 million people and is currently on track to vaccinating 15 million people by mid-February. Per 100 people, the UK has vaccinated 11.67. The EU’s programme, on the other hand, is deteriorating. Yesterday Paris, Madrid and Lisbon had to suspend first dose vaccinations because of supply shortages.
The question everyone keeps asking is, why? When the UK opted out of the EU vaccination scheme, critics immediately labelled it as ‘Brexit Games’ and the Guardian went so far as to say it was ‘unforgivable’. However, clearly this decision has been for the benefit of the UK.
The EU signed its AstraZeneca contract in August, 3 months after the UK did. The delay was due to the EU wanting a lower price from the company that had already stated that it was producing vaccines ‘at cost’. The UK paid a higher price for the vaccines but are certainly reaping the benefits now. It hasn’t just been AstraZeneca that the EU has been slow with.
Yesterday the Novovax vaccine declared 89.3% efficiency, whilst the UK celebrated this news due to its 60 million doses already on order, the EU quietly revealed it had just completed ‘exploratory’ talks. The EU has moved at such a glacial pace that Italy even threatened to sue.
Let’s now focus on AstraZeneca (AZ) specifically. The EU’s contract with AZ was published yesterday and has stirred serious legal debate. The contested area of the contract is AZ’s commitment to making its ‘Best Reasonable Effort’ to delivering the vaccine, by no means a legal promise of delivery. This was reaffirmed by the AZ CEO Pascal Soriot when he said the ‘EU Vaccine contract is not a commitment’. Pascal went on to explain that the EU was suffering from teething problems in the delivery process and that the reason the UK is not facing similar issues is that the UK fixed its teething problems when it started working on the delivery schedule 4 months ago.
Urusula Von der Leyen, the EU Commission President, argues the complete opposite, saying that the contract contains binding order. It is difficult to comprehend how a contract that states ‘best reasonable effort’ can be twisted into contractually obligated delivery. Furthermore, the EU has not yet even cleared the AZ vaccine for use, and the German Federal Ministry of Health has said that the vaccine won’t be used for anyone 65 years or older due to efficiency concerns, a decision that has attracted much criticism from within their own health department and internationally.
The EU is playing a childish and frankly dangerous blame game. I am a Remainer and have never seriously questioned my position on that until now. They are starting a vaccine trade war and seem to no longer be able to understand contract law. If this ridiculous argument had taken place before 2016, I truly believe the referendum would have resulted in a comfortable majority vote for Leave. Westminster has not done well in its pandemic response; testing was slow, care homes were a disaster and confusing rules around the tier systems has led to the UK having one of the worst death tolls in the world. However, I will defend every inch of our vaccination programme and am delighted that the government is refusing to bow into the EU’s bullying tactics. The EU cannot shift its vaccination failure onto AstraZeneca nor Westminster. It should work on signing deals with Novovax sooner rather than later, to avoid the same issue in 3 months later.