A month after the Brexit deal was struck, the UK and the European Union have argued again, now over the coronavirus vaccine, in another chapter of global immunizer disputes.
Manufacturers are unable to produce the doses at the speed they had promised, increasing the dispute for existing units, especially among wealthier countries. As a result, the arrival of vaccines in the poorest places on the planet, which can take up to two years, is likely to delay further.
In the 27 countries of the European bloc, vaccination has progressed slowly. In one month, only 2% of residents were treated – neighboring UK has already vaccinated around 10%, having started 19 days earlier.
In Spain, the regions of Madrid and Cantabria announced on Wednesday (27) that they would stop the distribution of the first dose for lack of inputs.
The EU has placed orders with several manufacturers, but the two main delivery times. Pfizer / BioNTech attributed the delay to changes to expand its production capacity in Belgium. And AstraZeneca, which developed its drug with the University of Oxford, warned it would not be able to deliver the 80 million doses planned for the block by the end of March, and is only expected to provide more. ‘about 21 million.
UK-based AstraZeneca said the delay was due to problems at production facilities in Europe. In response, the EU on Wednesday (27) asked the company to use UK-made lots to fulfill the contract. However, the agreement between the pharmaceutical company and the UK government provides that the units produced there will meet domestic demand first.
“The 27 members of the European Union are united on the fact that AstraZeneca must deliver what has been agreed in our agreements”, put pressure on Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health of the bloc.
On Wednesday evening, Kyriakides said the stalemate continued. “We regret that the lack of clarity on the delivery schedule continues and we ask for a clear plan from AstraZeneca for the rapid delivery of the quantity of vaccine we have reserved for the first quarter”, published the commissioner in a network social, after a new conversation with the company.
The tension has been going on for a few days. On Monday (25), the EU said it would require additional permits for the export of vaccines outside the bloc, which could hamper their arrival in other parts of the world. One of the affected countries could be the UK, which left the EU last year because doses of Pfizer applied in the country come from a factory in Belgium.
“It is not about ‘the European Union first’, but about having a fair share [das vacinas] in Europe, ”said Jens Spahn, German Minister of Health, in a television interview on Tuesday (26).
Also Tuesday, an interview with Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, was controversial. He said the UK signed the vaccine deal in June, three months ahead of the Europeans, which helped them receive the material earlier. He also clarified that the contract does not oblige the company to meet exact deadlines and that, even with the delay, Europe is expected to receive, in February, 17% of all the production of the company, while it represents only 5% of the world population.
“We are two months behind what we wanted to be,” Soriot told Italian newspaper La Repubblica of the production progress. He cited problems in manufacturing steps, such as filtration. “We took the process Oxford gave us and tweaked it to be able to manufacture billions of doses. We had to train a lot of people, who didn’t know how to produce vaccines. And, with that, you can have production in certain factories, ”he explained.
AstraZeneca has divided the production of the immunizer into several units around the world. The first batch of the brand sent to Brazil, for example, came from India.
“The factories with the lowest output in our network today are the ones that supply Europe. But this is not on purpose. I am European, and I have Europe at heart,” said the CEO. French. He denied that the company is seeking to increase revenue by delaying deliveries and said the vaccine production was not profitable.
Amid the clash, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was confident the plots promised in the UK would be delivered. He also said it would be “a shame” if the UK still depends on the European Union for the vaccines.
“I think we were able to do some things differently and better in some ways,” Boris said, before moving on to compromise: “But it’s still early, and it’s very important to remember that this is about ‘an international company. We depend on our friends and partners and we will continue to work with them inside and outside the EU. “
The deepening dispute between rich countries over vaccines and production delays may make poor countries take even longer to obtain the product, also because several of them requested more doses than they did. would need it in practice, according to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, linked to the traditional British magazine.
According to the analysis, released Wednesday, it is expected that it will be possible to produce 12 billion units of vaccine by the end of the year, half of which has already been reserved, largely by rich countries. “Canada, for example, has secured supplies for the equivalent of five times its population. Israel would have paid much more than other countries to guarantee doses of Pfizer. This is not an option for poor countries.” , indicates the report.
The institute has made estimates of when countries will have vaccinated their populations: the most developed countries are expected to complete the process by the end of 2021. Middle-income countries, such as India and Brazil, should not end vaccination only in 2022.
The poorest countries, mostly in Africa, should not be able to immunize the majority of their population before 2023, the study points out, which points out that vaccination in these places may not even be done, due to lack of money.
“The costs of mass immunization will be significant, especially for less developed countries which have limited public resources,” the study said. In addition to the product itself, you will need to invest in transportation and the cost of the requests, such as paying the nurses who will administer the injections.
Most of the poorer places will depend on the Covax project, led by the World Health Organization, which plans to produce 2 billion units this year and sell them at more affordable prices.
The material emphasizes that Russia and China will use the doses they produced to try to expand their global influence, when negotiating their vaccines with low- and middle-income countries. China, for example, has reached an agreement to supply Coronavac to Brazil, but the delivery of inputs has been delayed.
“Mexico and Brazil have received promises of vaccines in exchange for conducting clinical studies or building factories. This should give them quick access to vaccines for priority groups, but mass protection will also depend on other factors, such as fiscal space. [capacidade de gastar mais dinheiro público], infrastructure and political will ”, underlines the analysis.