Coronavirus, all the flaws in the EU vaccination plan: it did not hit any of the goals set for the first quarter

BRUSSELS – In the first quarter of the year, Europe missed even one of the targets of its mass vaccination campaign launched in early January. The balance is negative, so much so that in recent weeks the EU leaders, in particular the number one of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have been hit by controversy and pressured by various heads of state and government to be tougher.

The reasons for the flop are to be found in the excessive confidence initially placed by the Euro-government in the production capacity of pharmaceutical companies, in the attitude in Brussels considered pirate by AstraZeneca – which delivered less than 30% of the foreseen doses – and by the slowness of vaccinations in several member states due to national inefficiencies.

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The European Commission had the merit of negotiating contracts with Big Pharma on behalf of the Twenty-Seven, managing to secure 2.3 billion doses from six different pharmaceutical companies at reduced prices thanks to the collective bargaining force: Pfizer-Biontech, Moderna, Janssen, AstraZeneca (already authorized by EMA), Curevac (pending the green light) and Sanofi (which has delayed the marketing of its drug to next year). However, Brussels does not have exclusive competences in the field of health and has had to improvise between success and ingenuity.

Certainly the work of the Commission on behalf of the Twenty-Seven has guaranteed equal access to the vaccine for all members of the European club, large and small, rich and weak, avoiding a vaccination war between EU governments that could have led to the dissolution of the Union. However, Brussels (jointly with the capitals, which are now blaming the EU) has overestimated the production capacity of multinationals, relying on their promises and discovering the difficulties of mass production too late.

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Now the EU Commissioner for Industry, Therry Breton, is working at full speed to increase the continent’s industrial strength and is aiming for full vaccination sovereignty in July. Too late, of course, but a good omen for the next few years considering that periodically we will have to go back to vaccinating ourselves against Covid. With Europe counting on becoming the world’s leading producer.

Missed goals

The first quarter goal set by the Union was to vaccinate 80% of the over 80s and medical staff. In both cases it missed the mark, with 27% of the elderly vaccinated and 47% of health professionals (61% received their first injection). In total, 6% of the European population has received the double dose of the vaccine while in the UK the rate is 7.8%. Nationally, only four countries have achieved the 80% target linked to over 80s: Sweden, Finland, Malta and Ireland, while Portugal and Denmark are one step away from reaching it.

Now the new goal set by Ursula von der Leyen – on which the German is playing political credibility – is to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by the summer. Breton said that Europe will be able to achieve herd immunity by 14 July. In reality, the meaning of the French’s words is more complex: Brussels aims to have a sufficient number of vials to vaccinate 255 million Europeans on Bastille Day, but the achievement of the objective will then depend on the speed with which national governments will inoculate the doses available. It is no coincidence that the target to reach 70% of vaccinated for prudence currently remains at the end of September.

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The AstraZeneca flop

The big culprit of the European flop is AstraZeneca, which in the first quarter delivered just 29.7 million vaccines against the 100 million provided for in the contract with the Union. In Brussels, authoritative institutional sources brutally explain it: “The same vials have been sold 2-3 times around the world”. The point of contention is that the contract between the Anglo-Swedish company and the EU provides that factories in the United Kingdom must also supply Europe, but the ad Pascal Soriot denied these vials to the Union. And behind it, at least it is the European version, there is the hand of the British government that has closed exports.

The issue is expected to be resolved in the coming days, with negotiations between von der Leyen and Boris Johnson that should lead to a solution by ending the trade war between the two sides of the Channel and possibly increasing production for the benefit of both blocs. London has in fact vaccinated the population with a single dose and now – this is the reading of Europeans disputed by the British – it fears it will miss the appointment with the recall. But above all it is the threat of a total block on exports launched by a revitalized von der Leyen at the push of Draghi, Macron e Merkel to frighten the UK. Brussels is also ready to take AstraZeneca to court in the coming days if it does not get the agreed vials.

The vaccination bulletin shows that Europe will have distributed 107 million doses to national governments by the weekend. The bulk is due to Pfizer and Moderna, which have kept their commitments with 67.5 and 9.8 million doses delivered. AstraZeneca has stopped at 29.7 million vaccines against the 100 million promised. Meanwhile, Europe has exported 68 million doses to 41 countries. Mainly of the houses that have respected the commitments and therefore escape the export block. But from now on these producers will not be able to ship the vials to countries that do not guarantee reciprocity, that is, they import from Europe without giving anything in return. The real lever to reach an agreement that ends the vaccine war with London.

The second quarter

From now until the end of June, Europe expects to receive up to 360 million doses. Once again AstraZeneca has already announced that it will knock at least 50% of deliveries, but what gives Brussels hope are the reliability of the other manufacturers (200 million from Pfizer, 10 million more than expected, and 35 from Moderna) and the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine: 55 million single-dose vials on which after the meeting between EU leaders Joe Biden there seems to be greater certainty. The European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, he said that the EU expects supplies to be tripled and that this will make it possible to vaccinate 70% of the adult population, or 255 million people. According to community sources cited by The country, by the end of June, the four largest EU countries – Italy, France, Germany and Spain – will have vaccinated 60% of adults. By the end of the year, Europe will be able to produce 2-3 billion compounds for Brussels.

The Sputnik knot

Meanwhile, several countries are pressing to close a European contract also with Sputnik, but Brussels and the capitals fear that the Russians would still not be able to comply with any mass orders because at the moment they do not have adequate production capacity. For now, the green light for the vaccine in Moscow is expected, in the best of hypotheses expected for May. Then we will move on to the negotiation phase even if the rhetoric set by Brussels is that in the end it will be the Europeans who will help the Russians to produce their vaccine – which will not arrive for several months – rather than the Russians to help the European vaccination campaign.

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