Europe’s Bungled Vaccine Roll Out

Illustrated by Lucy Chen

As the US, the UK, and Israel have vaccinated at least 30% of their population against COVID-19 and continue to do so, the European Union is struggling and lagging behind [2]. France and Germany have only vaccinated about 10% of their population, and other European Union countries like Spain and Portugal have around 15% of their population vaccinated against COVID-19 [2]. As shown by the lower deaths per capita, the European Union has handled the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well compared to the US, the UK and Israel. However, the EU is now one of the few places where lockdown orders are still being mandated, as new strains and little vaccination efforts have been unable to slow the spread [5].

One of the reasons that the EU is doing so poorly with the vaccine rollout is the lack of supply of vaccines in the first place, which stems from the failed early negotiations and investments. The European Union worked as a bloc to negotiate vaccine contracts with manufacturers [4]. This bloc of 37 countries had much more bureaucracy when negotiating vaccines and as such took longer to do so than the US and the UK. The European also unluckily bet on the wrong vaccines, as the EU invested heavily in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which had correlations to blood clots in young adults [4]. The EU received up to 400 million doses of this two shot vaccine, but has delayed its distribution of the vaccine itself. Sweden, France, Germany, Spain and others have limited the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the public opinion of the vaccine itself has led to many not wanting that specific vaccine [1]. 

Conversely to the EU, the US invested heavily in Pfizer and Moderna for the development of a vaccine, both of which have demonstrated increased efficacy as compared to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Operation Warp Speed directly incentives companies that developed vaccines to negotiate vaccine contracts with the United States, as the United States had invested in their vaccine development directly. The EU on the other hand had to wait until December to negotiate contracts with Pfizer due to the lack of investment which disincentivized earlier vaccine contracts [5].

Brexit also played a big role in slowing down the vaccine rollout for the EU. The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine that the UK uses is manufactured in Belgium. However, because of the vaccine contracts that the UK negotiated before the EU, the EU has to ship the vaccines manufactured in Belgium to the UK first. Before Brexit, the UK shared its manufacturing facilities with the rest of mainland Europe, but Brexit delayed the ability for EU companies to manufacture products directly in the UK [3]. Since the vaccine manufacturing plants legally need to ship their products to the UK first, the EU’s new decreased vaccine manufacturing ability further delays the possibility of the EU getting more vaccines until the UK contracts are over. This asymmetry in vaccine manufacturing due to the contracts disproportionately hurts the EU [3].

The EU will most likely become vaccinated before developing countries do, but the delayed rollout may have political and cultural consequences that will change its perception worldwide.

Edited by: Nick Rogers
Illustrated by: Lucy Chen

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