Last week, the Vaccine Wars began. Who could’ve seen it coming? Actually, the stoush over the AstraZeneca vaccine should surprise nobody. Nor the EU’s outrage over AstraZeneca’s not-very-surprising announcement of a production shortfall. Nor the vindictive EU reaction to try and punish the UK for its own vaccine failures. Nor the subsequent threats of a trade war and attempts at a vaccine robbery.
As Nigel Farage put it in his Telegraph column, “Finally, the country is seeing the EU for what it is: nasty, vindictive and nationalistic”. He has known all along. But, today, we dig into just how unsurprising all of this really is. So unsurprising that even our own government saw it coming… the second time around anyway.
And, perhaps more importantly, we examine what all of this means for our own economy. Hint: where do you think pharmaceutical companies will be investing in production facilities in the future? A place that prevents them from exporting, perhaps?
But we better start at the beginning.
While the World Health Organisation has been busy worrying about the third world getting their hands on vaccines, the EU has been having its own problems. The focus hasn’t been to resolve the problems, but to blame the Brits and try to claim their vaccines instead.
The newspaper headlines have been extraordinary. Including in the German papers I check. But we don’t do the news in Fortune & Freedom. We dig a little deeper.
Ironically enough, for today’s analysis, we will be covering rather a lot of the news. But to make an important point. The Vaccine Wars should surprise nobody. We’ve gradually been escalating towards this. And it’s nothing new. The context reveals this.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s December article is proving rather prescient, for example. He wrote that “Europe’s vaccination fiasco threatens to become the EU’s biggest failure”.
The only bigger failure would be the failure of the EU itself, of course. But Nigel already explained that:
If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that the best decisions are taken by national governments acting in their national interest. It is for this reason that I say Europe must leave the European Union.
So, let’s focus on the impact of the EU’s mess on the UK.
But first, I need to point out just how bad the EU’s vaccine mess has been. Especially in Germany, a nation that would normally pride itself of efficiently rolling out this sort of programme.
So, here’s an amusing summary of Germany’s shifting vaccine policy, as covered by the media.
It started off well.
CNN: “The EU is plagued with divisions. Covid-19 vaccines are a golden chance to redeem the European project”. Huzzah!
Deutsche Welle, which ironically means German Wave, explained the German government’s position: “Germany says EU-wide vaccination strategy is ‘the right way’”.
The Telegraph exposed that the Germans were even willing to force other nations to comply with an EU co-ordinated rollout: “Angela Merkel ‘blocked bid to secure more coronavirus vaccine’”, with the “German chancellor intervened to force the German, French, Italian and Dutch health ministers to hand over responsibility to EU.”
Think about how that sounds to voters in Europe. The Germans at the head of the European Commission and the German government blocking other European nations from purchasing vaccines…
With the EU in charge, things started to go wrong. Bloomberg: “Germany Defends Pan-Europe Vaccine Strategy Amid Slow Rollout”.
US site Stars and Stripes featured more on the German response: “Germany urges patience with COVID vaccine rollout under fire”.
And Reuters mentioned the EU had begun finger pointing to draw attention elsewhere: “EU criticises ‘hasty’ UK approval of COVID-19 vaccine”.
Meanwhile, Associated Press mentioned that “Germany’s health minister urges EU to approve vaccine faster”. Why so hasty?
Because the UK had been leading the way. Guido Fawkes reported on Die Bild Zeitung’s claims: “Mood turns on Merkel as first German is vaccinated… in UK”. Yes, there are still Germans living in the UK after Brexit.
But this revelation didn’t exactly fit with the Guardian’s claim from last March that “Brexit means coronavirus vaccine will be slower to reach the UK”, making all three of their interviewed experts wrong. All three! Who would’ve thought…
The Financial Times reported “Germans eye other countries’ Covid vaccine campaigns with envy”. And they weren’t talking about Malta…
But eyeing is not all they did. Having forced the EU’s nations into the EU’s plan, the Germans began to abandon it. The Standard claimed that “Germany and Hungary roll out vaccine early, upsetting plans for EU-wide rollout on Sunday”.
It wasn’t just the timing they broke ranks on. Politico had another scoop: “Thanks to deep pockets, Germany snaps up extra coronavirus jabs”.
The inequality of it!
The internal battle began once this was exposed, with the Express’ report on “‘Selfish’ Germany accused of grabbing 76million vaccine doses in breach of EU scheme.” And “EU chaos: Merkel breaks with von der Leyen’s vaccination rollout plan amid German fury”.
How did the EU respond to the German break with the policy they had forced on others in the first place? The EU Observer had the details. Or rather, lack of them: “[European] Commission silent as Germany buys own vaccines”.
But the rest of Europe wasn’t putting up with it. The Express mentioned “’Brutal violation’: Polish minister accuses ‘selfish’ Germany of breaking EU vaccine rules”.
The Local covered the first thing the Germans got right: “German Health Minister admits mistakes in Covid-19 vaccine strategy”. But why was the German health minister apologising for the EU’s mistakes?
And the problems aren’t exactly resolved just yet. The Germans are getting rather desperate. CNBC reported “Germany’s Merkel ‘open’ to producing Russian Covid vaccine in the EU” and Bloomberg revealed “Germany Buys Covid Treatment Used by Donald Trump”! I wonder what the EU thinks of that…
Not content making a mess of their own vaccine supplies, The Telegraph reported “EU threatens to block exports of Pfizer Covid vaccine”.
This was in response to the AstraZeneca vaccine production delays – another EU blunder and a vaccine which, according to Handelsblatt, the German government considers ineffective for old people. And, more importantly, the EU hadn’t even approved it when the furore began.
Imagine the gall of it… Complaining about production delays for a product you haven’t approved yet, claim doesn’t work and fingered others for approving too fast!
And so the UK must fret over its own vaccine supply. Not that this is a surprise. Remember this, from the Financial Times in April:
Contracts signed by the UK with international suppliers for kit to safeguard health workers were “not worth the paper they were written on” after countries imposed export bans in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, a senior NHS official said on Thursday.
Are we talking about distant and unenlightened lands? Nope:
Mark Roscrow, director of NHS Wales’s shared services procurement, told MPs that contracts that had been placed for emergency deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the event of a pandemic were rendered worthless during the Covid-19 outbreak after countries including France and Germany prohibited their export.
If they took our PPE, why the shock that they’re trying to dispute our claim to the vaccine? Perhaps our government learned from its PPE mistakes in securing the vaccines.
Can you imagine if this had happened before the Brexit referendum? Germany and France banning the contracted sale of PPE equipment to the UK… and threatening to take our vaccines if we don’t give them our other vaccines?
Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca CEO, who just happens to be French, explained in the Guardian why the EU was taking the production hit instead of the UK:
“The UK agreement was reached in June, three months before the European one,” he said. “As you could imagine, the UK government said the supply coming out of the UK supply chain would go for the UK first. Basically, that’s how it is.”
He also argued that the contract with the EU is a “best effort” requirement, not a contractual obligation to deliver. The EU was so late that AstraZeneca knew what was coming. The EU’s demands to get vaccines at the same time as the UK, despite ordering the vaccine months later, were going to be tough.
I’m deeply sceptical of all government actions. So a bungled vaccine rollout is no surprise regardless.
But this is beyond what European voters are willing to accept from the EU, surely?
Not that European heads of government are sticking around to find out. Angela Merkel is likely to be replaced soon. The Italian and Dutch PM have resigned. The Spanish health minister resigned with Spain at a record number of cases.
With the Dutch, Germans and Czechs holding elections this year, and the Italians looking a possibility, rather a lot could change in Europe this year.
But let’s just examine for a moment how the EU’s businesses might be feeling about all this. First several EU nations banned PPE exports, despite contracted sales. Would you set up a PPE manufacturing plant in a country which banned exports? In violation of contracted sales?
Now the vaccine debacle. Would you manufacture your vaccines in the EU with this sort of nonsense taking place?
What about other politically sensitive manufacturing? With the EU able to block exports as it sees fit, where are you going to invest in production facilities?
And it’s not just that. Recall this combination of facts, also from the Telegraph:
The European Medicines Agency is expected to grant market authorisation at the end of the week, meaning doses could be shipped out to the member states. But on Friday, AstraZeneca wrote to the EU executive saying it had supply chain problems and would not be able to fulfil its contractual obligations.
And then the German Handelsblatt newspaper claimed that German government officials question the vaccines’ efficacy amongst older people.
The EU is in uproar that a drug maker can’t deliver enough of a drug that didn’t have the EU’s approval yet, which leading officials claim doesn’t work according to a leading newspaper… Does that sound like a good business environment?
Now I’m not so sure rolling out vaccines so fast is a good idea. If the vaccines turn out to be a flop, or worse, the worm will turn in spectacular fashion. The UK will look rather bad.
Not that the vaccines are being sold as our path to a return to normality any more anyway. In fact, with the population vaccinated, we may have to lockdown our borders more than ever to keep mutations out, just in case the vaccines prove less effective against them. Funny how vaccines went from allowing freedom to potentially justifying isolationism.
But the bigger picture emerging from the Vaccine Wars is an exposure of just how business unfriendly the EU really is. And why businesses should not manufacture there.
I wonder where they might go…
Editor, Fortune & Freedom