Europe’s Vaccination Debacle


If you live in the U.S., here’s another reason to be thankful. We have three effective, safe, approved vaccines for Covid-19 and people are getting vaccinated.

Not so in Europe. The Wall Street Journal editorial board likens the European Union to “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” To date, the U.S. has administered 34 doses per 100 residents, the U.K. has given 40, and Israel has given 111 (most vaccines require two shots). In comparison, France, Germany, and Italy have given about 12 per 100 residents; this despite earlier approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe than any vaccine in the U.S.

The latest management fumble was definitely an “unforced error.” When a few isolated cases of blood clots caused concern, various European regulators and politicians demanded the halt of vaccinations using the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only one currently widely available in the EU. This stoked fears unnecessarily throughout Europe. Over 11 million have been vaccinated in the U.K. and serious blood clots were found less in that population than in the general population. There are many others reasons for developing blood clots including health conditions, medications, and even Covid-19 itself. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) stepped in to declare the vaccine was not associated with an increased rate of blood clots or overall risk.

This is the problem when many different countries try to let a single bureaucracy determine their policies. WSJ says the introduction of the AsraZeneca shot was held up even after the EMA approved it because bureaucrats in Germany claimed there was no evidence it works in patients older than 65 years. The only truth to this statement was that fewer elderly patients were included in the sample during the vaccine’s trial phase. Yet this falsehood was widely disseminated, especially by French President Emmanuel Macron.

It took a long time to undo the damage done by the spreading of this misinformation. It also skewed priority lists. Younger teachers and university professors in Italy received injections ahead of the ill and elderly under a scheme developed when officials claimed the shot wouldn’t work on the old.

The bureaucracy of the EU makes it a nightmare to make decisions. No one seems to be fully in charge. Although the EMA is the agency designated for such decision-making, the large number of EU member states makes obtaining approval a challenging task. Delays are inevitable and there is no end to second-guessing. Imagine if we had to have the approval of all 50 states every time the federal government wanted to make a decision. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for approval by rogue governors, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, before we can make vaccines available to our people. (Cuomo once declared he wouldn’t accept the advice of the Trump administration that the vaccines are safe without “his own investigation.”)

The delays in vaccination have also been caused by EU reluctance to commit to purchases of large vaccine volumes and haggling over the prices. WSJ says Washington and London understood that crucial to mass procurement was throwing large amounts of R&D money at many pharmaceutical companies in hopes that some would work. As a result, Europeans pay a few dollars less, but were at the back of the line when it came time for shipments of vaccines.

WSJ acknowledges the benefits of living in the U.S. They ask, “Could things have been different? The Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed demonstrated how a large government can use its fiscal resources to fund R&D in a crisis. The U.K. and Israel have shown that small countries can leverage regulatory nimbleness to sprint ahead. But somehow the European Union – a continent-wide political bloc composed of smaller nation-states – managed to get the worst of both worlds. It’s suffering the lumbering bureaucracy of a large government and the squabbling inefficiency of a small one. Europeans can debate at their leisure whom to blame for this and how to keep it from happening again. The rest of the world can only hope they get their vaccination act together soon.”

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