EU vaccine shame as Brussels spent ‘seven times less’ than US and UK in fight for jabs
Vaccine: EU taken ‘more risk’ says expert
The EU has faced widespread criticism for its lacklustre approach to vaccination. This reached a new peak when Brussels hit out at AstraZeneca after the UK-based developer confessed it would not be able to meet the requested quantities of the vaccine for the bloc. The pharmaceutical giant told Brussels that as it had signed a contract three months after Westminster, it was far less likely to receive all the requested doses.
The bloc then condemned the developers and temporarily triggered an emergency measure of the Brexit deal to prevent unimpeded vaccines entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland.
The bloc’s fractured approach towards AstraZeneca was then evident when French President Emmanuel Macron dubbed the vaccine “quasi-ineffective”, just moments before the European Medicines Agency approved the jab for use on all adults.
Scientists in other EU countries, such as Germany and Belgium, have also warned the elderly not to get the AstraZeneca vaccine — making the public spat between Brussels and the developers seem pointless.
Such a mismanaged response has left the international community completely stunned.
However, the CEO of scientific data company Airfinity, Rasmus Bech Hansen, pointed out that these blunders can be traced back to how much the EU has invested in the vaccines.
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He explained that pre-purchase agreements, where a nation promises to pay a set amount for a certain number of vaccines, have been key to get vaccination programmes moving.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s ‘How to Vaccinate the World’, he said: “There is risk transfer — the governments are taking on risk from the private sector.
“Early interventions have been critical, as we have seen.
“We analysed the numbers and funding numbers between the EU, the UK and the US.
“The UK and the US have invested seven times more pre-approval in these vaccines than the EU has.”
Airfinity’s research reveals the UK has spent £25 per person on early COVID-19 research when it committed £1.67billion to vaccines before knowing if they would be effective.
Mr Hansen’s company Airfinity also claimed the US spent £7.9billion, which is the equivalent of £24.02 per person, in its vaccine research.
The EU, however, has spent just £3.51 per European citizen. Overall, the EU invested £1.57billion into its research.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr Hansen explained the significance of this early investment from the UK and US.
He said: “In some ways, they’ve taken on much more risk, and that has really been critical in reaching this point — after all, we are getting quite a lot of vaccines at an unprecedented pace.”
Fellow commentator Natasha Loder also made the case for Brexit when she explained how it had been in London’s interest to avoid the EU’s joint procurement process to invest in vaccines.
Ms Loder, The Economist’s health policy editor, explained: “If we had joined the EU in the procurement, there would not have been more vaccines around, there would be less.
“We would have just been slowed down by them.”
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She said negotiations with a range of countries at a time slow down proceedings.
She continued: “The countries that have done well, they’ve put a lot of money at risk and they’ve been nimble.
“That’s how this has worked.
“I think everything that Europe has done during this is showing how not to do it.”
Indeed, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told European newspapers on Thursday the bloc had “underestimated the difficulties” of vaccine procurement.
She added that the EU was a “tanker” compared to the UK, which was able to act like a “speedboat”.
Mr Hasen also speculated that without a nationalist approach from the US, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines may not have been developed.
Criticising the EU’s slow strategy, he also noted countries such as Denmark which has a prominent live science sector has been left “sitting there” throughout the pandemic, letting the EU take over.
He claimed that as the bloc has not invested in clinical trials, and the member countries have not been “incentivised” to their part, “we are left with less vaccines, less production capability” as a result.
The EU did start developing some European vaccines such as Germany’s CureVac, which it gave £70million to last year.
While it has purchased 225 million doses of this vaccine, it is still in the advanced phase of clinical trials.
Director of the Centre for Virology at Harvard Medical School Dan Barouch also noted how investment and resources are required to help develop vaccines at an unprecedented speed.
Discussing the speed of Pfizer’s vaccine development, he told Nature.com: “It shows how fast vaccine development can proceed when there is a true global emergency and sufficient resources.
“It has shown that the development process can be accelerated substantially without compromising on safety.”
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