The EU's Vaccination Disaster

Von der Leyen under growing pressure over vaccine disaster. Southeast Europe ignores EU and orders Russian and Chinese vaccines.

BERLIN/BRUSSELS |

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) - The EU Commission and its President Ursula von der Leyen are coming under growing pressure over their Covid-19 vaccine procurement blunders. Von der Leyen's predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker has criticized not only the significant protraction of contract negotiations. It is particularly damaging that the export controls introduced under German pressure give "the impression that the suffering of other people, especially in poorer countries" does not affect the EU. Japan is now developing its own national vaccine production to ensure access to vaccines, even if an EU export ban is imposed. Anger is also growing in non-EU countries in Southeast Europe. ”We wanted to go for western vaccines," an official from North Macedonia declared. However, since no deliveries are in sight, Russian and Chinese vaccines have to be ordered. Under growing pressure, even the German government is now considering vaccines from Russia and China, which it had so far been denigrating.

Von der Leyen Under Pressure

The EU Commission and its President Ursula von der Leyen are coming under growing pressure over their disastrous Covid-19 vaccine procurement blunders. At the beginning of this week, von der Leyen's predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker voiced massive criticism. Particularly the contract negotiations with the vaccine producers proceeded much "too slowly," Juncker declared. This pertains to the current AstraZeneca production delay, for example. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1]) Juncker, who has received several German orders of merit,[2] and is not particularly known for criticizing top German officials, has voiced principled criticism of the vaccine export controls, introduced by the EU last weekend - under pressure from Berlin. Germany's Minister of Health Jens Spahn, in particular, demanded that "the approval of vaccine exports at EU level be required."[3] The Commission under von der Leyen complied. At a virtual event organized by the German state of Baden-Württemberg on Monday, Juncker declared that he is "very much opposed" to the fact that, with the export controls, "the European Union is now giving the impression that we are taking care of ourselves and that the suffering of other people, especially in poorer countries and on poorer continents, does not affect us."[4]

Export Controls with Repercussions

Juncker also reminded that, already in the past, "we actually have not had good experiences with export restrictions in Europe."[5] He was referring to the fact, that at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the German government had initially imposed a national export ban on medical protective equipment. This had particularly shocked Italy, which, at the time, had been most severely affected by the pandemic and needed help. It had also shattered the EU's reputation.[6] Even though Berlin relented shortly thereafter and lifted its export ban, the experience of being abandoned by the EU in a case of an emergency had already made its mark on Italy. Since Brussels simultaneously imposed its own export ban, protest was being raised in southeast European non-EU countries, such as Serbia, because they were now cut off from supplies of protective equipment.[7] Juncker's warning that new restrictions would again cause harm, has already been confirmed. Tarō Kōno, Japan's former Foreign and Defense Minister, who is currently in charge of organizing the vaccine campaign, which is delayed also in his country, pointed out that Japan's planned vaccine purchase from EU countries also risks delays or to even be stopped altogether by the new EU export controls.[8] Tokyo is protecting itself by creating its own national vaccine production - with a vaccine license from AstraZeneca.

Disappointed

The consequences of the EU's blunders in the procurement of vaccines are now becoming evident, not least of all in southeast Europe - particularly in Serbia, who had been refused aid already in the spring of 2020. With the EU having imposed a ban on exporting to Serbia, Belgrade turned to China for support in procuring medical protective gear - and promptly received extensive supplies. Brussels reacted by accusing Beijing of engaging in reprehensible "mask diplomacy." Later - after the EU had resumed its own deliveries to southeastern Europe - it also demanded of those countries official proclamations of gratitude. The May 6, 2020 final declaration of the EU's West Balkan Summit stipulated that the EU's "support and cooperation" goes "far beyond," "what any other partner has provided to the region," and that "deserves public acknowledgement."[9] This is again happening. Fobbed off by the EU with only 20,000 BioNTech/Pfizer doses of vaccine, Belgrade turned first to Russia and ordered two million doses of Sputnik V and additional vaccine from China's Sinopharm Company. Whereas the Russian deliveries are currently somewhat delayed, a delivery of a million doses of Sinopharm vaccines arrived in Serbia's capital, on January 16, allowing Serbia to rank first place in continental Europe, in the number of vaccine doses already administered, with 7.29 per 100 vaccinated inhabitants (Germany: 3.09, Great Britain: 14.94).

In Times of Hardships

Reactions from also other southern European non-EU nations indicate that this is no marginal issue. Until now, alongside Serbia, only Albania has received a meager supply of 10,000 BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine doses from the EU, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and Montenegro have yet to receive anything. "We wanted to go for western vaccines to show where we as a country belong, and initially excluded the possibility of negotiating with the Russians and the Chinese," one official from North Macedonia was quoted. However, given the current uncertainty, when and whether vaccine deliveries can even be expected, this can no longer be maintained - even if "someone could say" "in times of hardships it is China and Russia that help, while the western governments are failing." "The harm they [the EU, editor's note)] are doing to themselves is incredible," observes an expert at the European Stability Initiative (ESI) in Berlin.[10] In the meantime, with Hungary, the EU's first member nation has ordered Chinese and Russian vaccines. Both have nationally been approved for use. An initial delivery of Sputnik V (40,000 doses) arrived in Budapest on Tuesday. Hungary has also ordered 5 million doses from Sinopharm.

Sputnik V

In light of the persisting vaccine shortages, Berlin and Brussels find themselves in a situation, where they can no longer forbid the large-scale use of Russian and Chinese vaccines. In their habitual western arrogance, EU politicians and media have been denigrating non-western vaccines, across-the-board, and waging negative campaigns against them. It almost came as a shock to many, when they learned that the renowned medical journal The Lancet reported on Tuesday that the protection rate for Sputnik V is at a remarkable 91.6 percent.[11] In view of the fact that the continued delays in the EU's vaccination campaigns are causing not only the persisting high death rates and growing unrest among the populations, but also the fact that the continuation of the necessary lockdowns is costing the economy billions, Germany's Minister of Health, Jens Spahn signaled his receptiveness for using Chinese and Russian vaccines, already at the end of January. Now Chancellor Angela Merkel has also declared that, in the EU, every vaccine is "warmly welcomed." According to reports, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen does not want to stand in the way of using vaccines from Russia and China. Moscow has applied for the acceptance of Sputnik V for use within the EU. The production of the vaccine at IDT Biologika in Dessau (Saxony-Anhalt) is in discussion.[12]

Profits over Life

In spite of its blunders in procuring the vaccines, the EU still upholds its principle: refuse the release of vaccine patents, even for the duration of the pandemic. A patent release would enable the use of all production capacities throughout the world, to be able to vaccinate as soon as possible - not only those in prosperous, but also those in poverty-stricken countries. The EU's refusal delays a global recovery from the pandemic. However, it insures lush profits to pharmaceutical companies. Pfizer, for example, recently announced that this year, it is expecting an increase in its turnover - solely for its Covid-19 vaccine - of around US $15 billion. The company, whose gross profits will be shared with BioNTech, estimates its profit margin - before taxes - to be at 30 percent. The Pandemic is, therefore, worth billions for both companies.[13] AstraZeneca demonstrates that it can also be done otherwise. According to its own information, the British-Swedish company produces and sells its vaccines, at the demand of Oxford University, which had developed the vaccine, at manufacturing price, at least until the end of the pandemic (which AstraZeneca, of course, determines). The result is that a dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine (Germany/USA) costs around €12, whereas AstraZeneca's only €1.78.

 

[1] See also Die Impfstoffknappheit der EU (II).

[2] See also Particularly Close to Germany.

[3] Spahn: Ausfuhr von Impfstoff nur mit Erlaubnis der EU. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26.01.2021.

[4], [5] Hans von der Burchard: Juncker 'very much opposed' to EU vaccine export controls. politico.eu 01.02.2021.

[6] See also EU Solidarity (II).

[7] See also Die Solidarität der EU.

[8] Mari Yamaguchi: Japan concerned over EU COVID-19 vaccine supply uncertainty. abcnews.go.com 02.02.2021.

[9] See also The "Politics of Generosity".

[10] Valerie Hopkins: Balkan nations turn to China and Russia for jabs. ft.com 02.02.2021.

[11] Ian Jones, Polly Roy: Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears safe and effective. thelancet.com 02.02.2021.

[12] Lucas Grothe: Russischer Impfstoff-Entwickler hat Interesse an Produktion in Pharmawerk in Sachsen-Anhalt. mdr.de 02.02.2021.

[13] Zusatzgeschäft Corona-Impfung. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.02.2021.