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22nd Mar 2021

People will die because of the EU’s petulant behaviour over the AstraZeneca vaccine

A recent YouGov poll shows the EU’s decision to play politics with life-saving vaccines in the middle of a pandemic is already having a catastrophic effect; the world needs this like a hole in the head

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt

A recent YouGov poll shows the EU’s decision to play politics with life-saving vaccines in the middle of a pandemic is already having a catastrophic effect; the world needs this like a hole in the head

The EU’s long and winding road of deadly fuck ups started at the beginning of the year, in the midst of its chaotic vaccine roll out while the UK’s was internationally lauded. It was this, combined with a 40 per cent drop in AstraZeneca vaccine supplies following manufacturing issues, that triggered a visceral and deadly response from the bloc.

The EU accused AstraZeneca of violating their contract obligations on deliveries, demanded the UK send vaccine doses from their production plants to the EU, threatened to suspend vaccine exports to the UK, and unilaterally triggered Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol – seeking to introduce a hard border on vaccines. This was done without Ireland’s knowledge, despite the fact the EU claimed to care passionately about the Good Friday Agreement during Brexit negotiations. Like petulant playground bullies, the EU attempted to use their power and influence to intimidate the UK and AstraZeneca into submission.

They failed and, after international condemnation, the EU retreated like a wounded dog. But Germany and France then claimed that the vaccine didn’t work on over 65s anyway, and suspended its use among that age groups – something that was not rooted in evidence. Meanwhile, the EU’s more generally sluggish and chaotic vaccination programme garnered criticism from the World Health Organisation (WHO), who asked the bloc to give its unused vaccines to poorer countries. At a critical moment of limiting a virus killing millions, the EU were deliberately frustrating efforts at containment to the detriment of themselves and the world – leaving vaccine doses languishing in fridges.

And last week, over a dozen EU countries suspended the AstraZeneca jab over claims it may cause blood clots – despite the WHO and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) warning against it, citing a complete lack of evidence. A study released in the US today also shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not only not associated with blood clots, but is actually 100 per cent effective in preventing severe disease, higher than initially thought, as well as being more effective in older people.

The EU’s behaviour has even garnered condemnation from some within the bloc. Polish politicians refused to suspend the AstraZeneca roll out and condemned the EU for playing stupid political games. But the damage has been done; not only has the delay prevented millions from being vaccinated, it has also stoked deadly vaccine hesitancy. 

Compared to February, the number of people who now think the vaccine is unsafe in France is up 18 per cent to 61 per cent and Germany is up 15 per cent to 55 per cent, with similar figures in Spain and Italy, according to a YouGov poll. And there are signs that the EU’s vaccine politics are having an impact on the UK, with an increase of four per cent among Brits, bringing the total figure to nearly one in ten. The EU’s shameless dissemination of vaccine disinformation is an anti-vaxxer’s dream, and has created a threat far more wide-reaching and dangerous than anything hostile actors like Russia could dream of.

Millions inside and outside of the EU are now more mistrustful of a safe vaccine than they were a month ago because of the EU’s pathetic vaccine games, driven by resentment of their own failures. And they’re still not done.

Last week it was reported that the EU were considering banning vaccine exports to the UK, which will cost lives. And it seems the British government have had enough of this shit show, with cabinet ministers becoming less diplomatic.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab last week said: “Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation. It is normally what the UK and EU team up on to reject when other countries with less democratic views than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship.” And things have continued to escalate.

Ursula von der Leyen with a mask onThierry Monasse)

Following reports over the weekend that the EU are considering banning vaccine ingredient exports to the UK,  Helen Whately, health and social care minister, urged the EU to stand by its commitment on delivering vaccine supplies and warned against “vaccine nationalism and protectionism.” A spokesman for the prime minister today said “countries should not be setting export restrictions on vaccines”, and the prime minister is set to speak with EU officials this week.

The EU need to stop acting like children, taking out their failures on others instead of addressing their own fuck ups. They are playing a dangerous game – countries have gone to war over less. As their nations are gripped by a deadly third wave, described by the WHO as one of the worst situations globally, now is the time for international cooperation. Instead, the EU’s brinkmanship is raising questions over whether the UK should retaliate by banning exports of vaccine ingredients to the bloc.

Millions of people have died during this pandemic, and millions more will if it isn’t contained; everyone needs a vaccine war like they need a hole in the head. The UK, and the world, cannot afford this political animosity and vaccine warfare. And nor can the EU’s citizens, who are dying while their leaders lash out at others and put politics before their safety. It’s time the EU grew up.