Mired in a slow vaccination and “seeing the crest of the third wave of Covid go up”, the European Union raised it on Wednesday (17) against the United Kingdom, which it accuses of not acting with “reciprocity and proportionality “in the supply of vaccines.
“We are in the crisis of the century, and human lives, civil liberties and our economy depend on the speed of vaccination to progress. We will use all possible tools to vaccinate quickly, ”said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission (EU executive branch).
Among “all possible tools” is the restriction of exports to manufacturing countries or those with advanced immunization. And, among manufacturers with advanced immunization, the cited target was the neighboring country (and recently divorced from the EU in Brexit).
Von der Leyen said the European Union had already exported around 10 million doses of vaccine to the UK, but UK factories had not shipped vaccines for the block. In response, the EU has said it does not exclude or suspend intellectual property rights (a measure it has opposed at WTO meetings).
“All options are on the table,” said von der Leyen, after recalling that patent infringement was already used by the bloc in the 1970s.
At the heart of the dispute are successive interruptions in the delivery of vaccines produced by AstraZeneca – under Swedish and British control – to the European Union.
The company pledged 90 million doses in the first quarter of this year, but later informed that only 40 million would be available and ended up delivering just 30 million, a third of the contract.
For the second quarter, the contract provides for 180 million doses, but the manufacturer is expected to deliver 70 million.
The lack of supply is one of the reasons for the weak performance of vaccination in the European bloc, especially compared to the relative success of the United Kingdom. But this is far from the only or the main one, as several countries still have stocks of vaccines in their refrigerators.
According to the European Center for Disease Control, until Wednesday, the block had only used an average of 46% of the roughly 14 million doses of AstraZeneca countries have already received.
Other reasons for the greater effectiveness of the British campaign so far is the fact that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government contracted and approved vaccines about a month before the European Union.
At the end of December, when the European regulator gave its first approval, the UK was already injecting its citizens with hundreds of thousands of doses per day, both of AstraZeneca and Pfizer / BioNTech, developed and produced by the EU. .
In addition to starting at the front, the vaccination program in UK countries took off quickly as it adopted a simplified, one-stop planning system and intensive communication campaign.
In Europe, by contrast, each government has implemented different access rules and logistical structures, even preventing the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the elderly, although the bloc’s regulatory agency – responsible for assessing the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals – had recommended its use for all adults, without restriction.
As a result, the UK has already administered 40 doses of the vaccine per 100 people, almost four times more than the European Union, which on average has injected 11 out of 100.
Disagreements over AstraZeneca’s product increased public insecurity, at a time when intention to get vaccinated was increasing even in countries where the presence of anti-vaccination activists was greater, such as France.
The new decision to suspend use of the AstraZeneca immunizer “just in case” was a scoop: only 20% of French people said they trusted the immunizer in BMFTV research carried out shortly after the announcement.
The Commission declined to comment on the shutdown announced by nearly 20 of its members, a move that has been attributed to politically motivated even within the EU.
In Belgium, where none of the vaccinations have been suspended, spokesman Yves Van Laethem said there are so few reports of problems that “stopping the campaign would be more damaging than anything else”.
“In most of the countries around us, the decision was made by politicians, not by the medical security agencies themselves,” he said.
Amid the controversy, Boris Johnson has come forward as an example of the safety of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.
Asked Wednesday by a conservative parliamentarian on the cause of “disinformation and the apparent abandonment of scientific evidence in some EU member states”,
“I think the best thing I can say is that I finally learned that I will have my own injection very soon. It will definitely be Oxford / AstraZeneca,” he replied.