The vaccine war is declared in Europe. It is not the Trojan War, but the War of the Three: between the European Commission, which oversees the continent’s vaccine supply, AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company that manufactures one of the few available vaccines against Covid, and the UK.
It all started with a warning from the industrialist: deliveries to Europe will be cut by two-thirds in the first quarter, due to production problems. While at the same time, the UK is sourcing massively, which allows it to show one of the best vaccination rates in the world, more than 11 vaccinated per 100 inhabitants, compared to 1.7 in France. In April, all Britons over 50 must be protected. Suddenly, the Commission demands that AstraZeneca use its British factories to supply Europe – much to the fury of London!
The backdrop to this conflict is the shortage of product relative to demand. And it is Europe’s relative slowness in receiving orders, which was three months later than the UK order. Here again, it is the complexity and heaviness of the Brussels apparatus that is in question, compared to British reactivity. This is all one big Brexit publicity campaign.
The British and Americans drew hard and fast
In a single market, it was necessary to entrust the supply to Brussels. Otherwise, the small countries would have been crushed by the large ones and the citizens would have been vaccinated in the best supplied countries: the bazaar. So the idea was good, but the execution was problematic. Suddenly, there is no more vaccine in Spain, Germany is also striking down, and asks that Brussels bans exports of vaccines made in Europe. Berlin is even more furious that one of the operational vaccines, Pfizer’s, was invented by a German start-up, and that the country has several manufacturing units on its soil.
In the backwardness of European countries, two causes are cumulative. Failure to anticipate essential logistical problems, which are more the responsibility of national governments, and the slowness of the European decision-making process. An inertia that had been indicated in April by the head of Sanofi, who had launched the alert. Then by the boss of Moderna, the American manufacturer of another vaccine. Today by the boss of Astra Zeneca. And again by the French boss of Valneva, a French start-up whose potential vaccine will be delivered to the United Kingdom as a priority, because its offers of services to France and Europe have been ignored.
All four say the same: Trump’s America and the British struck hard, immediately, putting a lot of money on the table and a lot of willpower. In the years ahead, these strategic supply and shortage issues will multiply. Today it is the pharmacy, tomorrow it will be electronic components and raw materials. We have entered the era of great power confrontation, and Europe has yet to notice.