The European Union had a target of vaccinating fully at least 70 percent of the population in each member state by the end of the summer. However, the events of the last few weeks have put this objective in serious doubt. Thanks to a troubled procurement programme, the EU’s vaccination rate is around a fifth of Britain’s.
The UK has vaccinated more than 12 million people – the third-highest rate behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates – after assembling the biggest vaccine stockpile per capita last year.
Vaccines are most urgently needed in Portugal – currently the world’s worst COVID-19 hotspot – but the country’s vaccine chief warned on Wednesday that he “can’t do much more” because the EU has not procured enough jabs.
Spanish authorities stopped all vaccinations in the Madrid region for ten days starting on January 27 because of a lack of jabs. The following day, three French regions including the Paris area faced such a shortfall that they had to suspend injections of first doses to guarantee those already vaccinated their second doses.
This came amid the European Commission’s row with AstraZeneca, which developed its jab with Oxford University. The EU envisaged some 80 million doses arriving by March but the Anglo-Swedish firm informed Brussels on January 22 that, due to problems at a factory in Belgium, it could only deliver 31 million doses in that timeframe.
The row escalated further as the EU said it would be triggering an emergency provision in the Brexit deal to control COVID-19 vaccine exports, including the possible introduction of checks at the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent shipments entering the UK.
After fierce condemnation from London, Belfast, and Dublin, the EU performed a swift U-turn.
As the recriminations continue, in an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi praised Brexit, as he claimed Britain will be able to reboot its economy much quicker than the rest of the EU thanks to its vaccination programme.
He said: “The UK left the EU, so Brussels is doing whatever it can to discredit whatever Boris Johnson does.
“But look at the vaccine rollout in Britain… Johnson is miles ahead.
“In the EU, we will never vaccinate 600,000 people a day.”
Mr Rinaldi added: “Because of this complete disaster, the EU will be the last one to leave the state of emergency.
“We will pay both in terms of death and economic recovery.
“Britain will recover much quicker and it’s all thanks to Brexit and its regained sovereignty.”
In a recent report, the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau suggested Brussels’ “poor vaccine distribution” could actually be the final “nail in the coffin” before the union experiences a complete political and economic breakdown.
He argued that with its disastrous vaccine procurement policy, the EU committed the ultimate mistake: it has given people a rational reason to oppose European integration.
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He wrote: “What happened here is that the EU did a Brexit trade deal with the pharma industry: it tried to lock in a perceived short-term price advantage at the expense of everything else.
“Instead of prioritising the speed and security of supplies at any price, the EU prioritised the price.”
The EU paid 24 percent less for the Pfizer vaccine than the US, for example.
For the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the price gap is 45 percent.
Guntram Wolff, the director of the Bruegel Institute, usually fiercely loyal to Brussels, tweeted: “The EU spends less per vaccine shot than other industrial countries.
“This stingy approach cost lives. It’s incomprehensible.”
The price difference is macroeconomically irrelevant but if vaccine shortages lead to longer lockdowns, the indirect effect of that short-sighted policy will be massive, according to Mr Munchau.
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He wrote: “In the worst-case scenario, the vaccination delay would be a calamity that could cost tens of thousands of lives.
“To this day, the EU’s DNA is that of a producers’ cartel. Its priority is not to secure supplies, but reduce costs and achieve some balance between French and German interests.”
Mr Munchau concluded there will undoubtedly be calls for resignations.
He added: “But for me, the more important issue is the conclusions EU citizens will draw from it. For starters, the EU has just provided a hindsight argument in favour of Brexit. The UK would not have proceeded with vaccinations as quickly if it had subjected itself to the same policy.
“The last thing the EU ever wants to do is give people a rational, non-ideological reason for euroscepticism.
“It has just done that.”
Financial columnist Matthew Linn echoed Mr Munchau’s claims in a report for The Spectator.
He wrote: “The EU is trying to shift the blame to Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
“But in reality, this is a crisis of its own making.
“And as death rates start to fall dramatically in the vaccinated countries, the price will surely be a high one.”