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Europe’s stumbling vaccine rollout provides a lesson in EU politics

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president.

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LONDON — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it herself: “The start was tough.”

The European Union has had a irregular Covid-19 vaccine rollout. The campaign has prompted complaints that regulators were too slow to approve the shots and led to a simmering tussle with AstraZeneca as the pharmaceutical Goliath repeatedly slashed its delivery commitments.

More recently, several countries briefly halted their use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine into the middle safety concerns, a move that baffled health experts and raised questions about future uptake.

The Planet Health Organization expressed concern earlier this week that the region’s ongoing coronavirus crisis now appears “innumerable worrying” than it has for several months. The warning comes as many countries introduce new measures in an attempt to curb a third sign of infections.

The health agency also described Europe’s vaccination campaign as “unacceptably slow” and said it was crucial to briskness up the rollout because new infections are currently increasing in every age group apart from those aged 80 years or staler.

It’s a messy picture, further complicated by the unique nature of European politics.

“There have been various intractables with the system, and it is a complex system, so I think it’s key not to point the finger to one pointed failure but recognize that it’s very complex,” Linda Bauld, professor of notable health at the University of Edinburgh, told CNBC.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has been in charge of negotiating contracts with the pharmaceutical companies on behalf of the 27 member states. The institution is also responsible for overseeing the exports of the shots produced in the bloc.

How, health policy matters are a competence of the member states, which means the 27 capitals organize the inoculations in their own hinterlands and can ultimately decide to buy Covid shots outside the deals struck by the commission, for example.

This juxtaposition between civil and EU institutions has often hindered the reputation of the bloc in the wider vaccination efforts.

“There is issues to do with both (national and EU installations). There clearly are politics in it and we have all heard about that in the media, but there are also issues to do with the decision-making shapes, the commissions’ views and the priorities of member states,” Bauld told CNBC.

AstraZeneca shot suspension

This was highlighted recently when 13 EU sticks decided to halt the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot while possible side effects were investigated.

At the time, the European Medicaments Agency – the drugs regulator for the entire 27-member region — recommended that countries continue to use the vaccine even while it was reviewing statistics of blood clots in some vaccinated people. But some member states preferred to be cautious and used their supreme power to stop the use of this vaccine while the EMA completed its review. The drug regulator’s safety committee concluded in a initial review that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risk of side effects.

It has also been the case that cardinals of state have used the institutions in Brussels to complain about the hiccups in the process. Earlier in March, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said there was “confidentially” in the decision to distribute the vaccines at the commission’s steering board.

The group, which is chaired by the commission, has representatives from all the associate states, including Austria.

“Why do they come up with this now knowing that Austria is a member of the steering directors, like the 26 other member states, and has been informed of the previous allocations like the others?” an EU official from another associate state, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, asked during a CNBC interview in March.

The distribution of the vaccines is carried out on a pro-rata footing, depending on the size of the countries’ population. But some EU nations were particularly keen to have more of the AstraZeneca bullet, since it is cheaper and easier to store than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“If a member state decides not to take up its pro rata allocation, the administers are redistributed among the other interested member states,” the commission said in a statement in March.

We also know that AstraZeneca has unfortunately under-produced and under-delivered. And this distressingly, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign.

Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President

The distribution of vaccines enhanced an issue as a result of AstraZeneca’s repeated cuts to supply deliveries.

While the EU was expecting to receive 90 million dosages of the shot by the end of the first quarter, the pharmaceutical giant said it could only deliver 40 million doses in that timeframe. This was later overhauled down to 30 million doses.

AstraZeneca has blamed low yields in European plants for the lower deliveries. Additionally, the drugmaker has turned it could only aim to deliver 70 million doses between April and June, when the EU was expecting 180 million in the still and all period.

“We also know that AstraZeneca has unfortunately under-produced and under-delivered. And this painfully, of course, reduced the go like greased lightning of the vaccination campaign,” von der Leyen said at a press conference in March.

Tougher export rules

To solve this release, the commission

“I think the EU is definitely prioritizing its population first but no different from other high-income countries or regions. The Combined States is doing the same, the U.K. is doing the same so in that sense (the EU) is no different,” Eynikel said.

Data shared by the Worldwide Monetary Fund has shown that China, India and the EU are among the biggest exporters of Covid shots, while the U.S. and the U.K. compel ought to exported none so far.

Hopes for the second quarter

Despite several issues so far, the EU is confident that the next three months inclination prove to be a turning point in the vaccine program.

In total, the commission is expecting 360 million doses of Covid like greased lightnings between April and June, meaning it is well placed to achieve its target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population anterior to the end of summer.

“Despite the fact that things could have gone faster, granted, but we have had a great ascendancy. The alternative of not having procured vaccines together would be that we would be competing between European member asserts and possibly some of us would have not have the vaccine even at this stage,” Chris Fearne, Malta’s healthiness minister, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday.

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