Ursula von der Leyen: EU vaccine programme is ‘on track’
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Covid vaccinations are hailed as the best avenue to returning life to normal. Experts believe coronavirus vaccinations are likely to become an integral part of life. The UK has stormed ahead with its vaccination programme and is one of the leading nations in these efforts. European Union countries have trailed behind – with many key EU diplomats blaming the UK for its stuttering progress. Express.co.uk speaks to a macroeconomics expert about how the UK-EU vaccine war could impact Brexit and the fight against Covid.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stoked fires in the ongoing row between the EU and UK after she revealed the EU will reach vaccination targets “without sealing itself off from the world”.
The comments are believed to be a swipe at Britain for the way the country handled its own vaccination programme.
Ms von der Leyen said critics of the EU’s vaccination campaign ought to bear in mind the EU has exported 220 million jabs.
This equates to almost as many it has used for its own citizens.
The EU Commission President said: “Others are keeping their entire vaccine production all to themselves, but the EU will reach its vaccination targets without sealing itself off from the world.”
According to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, published on May 19, 232,119,227 vaccines have been distributed in total by manufacturers to EU or EEA countries.
The total number of vaccine doses administered is 200,867,558 across 30 countries.
The median uptake of first doses in adults aged 18 and over is 37.8 percent, with 16.2 percent having been fully vaccinated so far.
Full vaccination uptake rates for the most vulnerable groups are as follows: 60.2 percent of people aged 80 and above, 61.9 percent of healthcare workers and 69.1 percent of residents in long-term care facilities.
In the UK, more than 37.25m people have received a first dose, with 21.2m having been fully vaccinated so far.
As of May 19, 70.7 percent of the UK adult population had received their first dose, with 40.3 percent having been fully vaccinated.
Guido Cozzi, a professor of macroeconomics at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland said the EU’s poor timing and lack of know-how are to blame for the sluggish vaccine rollout.
He said the UK has benefitted from being better at appropriating and productively using ideas, whereas Europe has failed in this area.
He told Express.co.uk: “The European pharmaceutical industry remained disconnected from the potential vaccine inventors.
“The result is that the EU cannot control its jabs’ production, and our vaccination campaign is anaemic, while the UK is far more advanced.”
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The UK and EU agreed a Brexit deal last year and it came into force on January 1.
However, that did not mean the end of Brexit negotiations – meaning there are several more deals which need to be agreed.
Earlier this year, the EU threatened to invoke Article 16 of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement over vaccine exports amid tensions over the rollout.
Brexit minister David Frost this week condemned the EU’s threat and claimed it was to blame for ongoing Northern Ireland issues.
He told Spectator: “The problem we’ve got is that the boundary for trade purposes is proving more of a deterrent to trade and more of a generation of trade diversion than many people expected.”
Professor Cozzi said the animosity and frustrations between UK and EU could potentially impact Brexit progress, claiming it is all down to goodwill and long-term orientation.
The macroeconomics expert said Brexit technically improved the bargaining positions of both the EU and UK, giving each side more freedom and space to negotiate.
In particular, AstraZeneca’s loose application of its contract with the EU offered Brussels an opportunity to exercise this position.
Professor Cozzi told Express.co.uk: “Paradoxically, without Brexit, the UK would not have risked these restrictions.
“In my opinion, though, I think that Europe, a bit grumpy at times, is still a friendly divorced partner, but it will not take advantage of the current frustrating vaccine shortage to tilt Brexit negotiations to its advantage.”
Fundamentally, the issues with the EU’s vaccination rollout are rooted in the slow speeds of the European pharmaceutical industry, the expert claims.
Professor Cozzi said: “Unfortunately, they have learned the hard way that timing is vital in a pandemic, as is the careful monitoring of virus variants, vaccine candidates, scientific results, production networks, and potential bottlenecks.”
Both sides have the potential to impact the other’s progress with its vaccination plan, largely due to the supply chain.
Many components required for the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine are sourced from European supplies, which means the EU could block exports and retain doses produced in Europe.
This move would greatly increase the speed of the vaccine rollout across Europe and would negatively impact the speed of the rollout of second doses in Britain.
However, so far the EU has only threatened such as “thereby showing it to be more of a loyal friend to the UK than its myopic self-interest might dictate”.
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