Home Coronavirus For Europe, the vaccine has become a bigger problem than COVID-19

For Europe, the vaccine has become a bigger problem than COVID-19

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The European Union had a great opportunity to demonstrate unity and cohesion, but the bloc’s leaders did not break with tradition.

The coronavirus pandemic was a sad reminder of how divided and weak the European bloc is almost 30 years after its founding. The difficulties encountered did not bring the countries together in any way. On the contrary, they have become an occasion for discord.

So far, the migration crisis has been a prime example of European division, but the pandemic has overshadowed it. Under the circumstances, EU leaders should have united for a common victory over the deadly virus. Instead, a year after the pandemic began, they look at each other incredulously through screens at ineffective video conferences. Any topic becomes a cause for dispute and disagreement. Not for nothing did Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz last month compare what is happening to a “bazaar”.

The pandemic has also created local crises in individual EU countries. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was forced to resign because he could not cope with the economic effects of the crisis. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš dismissed his health minister, and in Slovakia, Igor Matovič resigned as prime minister due to a disagreement over the supply of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.

Blaming someone else for what happened can be done endlessly. You can try to blame China for the spread of COVID-19. One could blame the Putin regime for abusing vaccine diplomacy and the pharmaceutical companies for failing to honour contracts. But the EU itself sowed the seeds of this crisis and is now reaping the rewards.

To be sure, the bloc’s countries have indeed fallen victim to individual events on an equal footing with other countries around the world. The coronavirus struck the EU when it did not even have a unified health structure. Until now, the issue has been a national one. The European Medicines Agency, the regulatory body on whose decisions millions now depend, is mired in bureaucracy. Many countries outside the EU have approved emergency vaccines. But the EMA follows a standard procedure for licensing drugs.

The agency’s indecisiveness came to the fore even as the side-effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine began to cause fatalities. Experts at the University of Oslo Hospital have confirmed a link between the occurrence of blood clots and the vaccine shot.

Professor Andre Holme, head of the expert group, said the blood clots were probably linked to a powerful immune response to the drug. Vaccinated people began producing specific antibodies in their bodies which activated platelets and triggered the clots. In doing so, the antibodies flushed platelets out of the bloodstream, which explains the bleeding.

“Nothing but the vaccine can explain why we got such an immune reaction”, –  Holme said. – “There is nothing in the history of these patients that could have caused it. I’m sure it’s because of these antibodies, and I don’t see any other cause other than the vaccine.”

This information emerged almost a month ago. But not even a week has passed since the problem was officially recognised by the EMA. Of course, the agency’s experts can be understood. Their verdict would and eventually has led to a reduction in the use of AstraZeneca, which made up a large proportion of the EU’s vaccine stockpile.

In the meantime, officials continue the largely politicised debate over the appropriateness of supplying the Russian drug Sputnik V. Is the moral side of cooperation with the Kremlin really more important than the lives of citizens? The Slovak authorities probably think so, since they refuse on principle to use even the batch of Russian vaccine they have already purchased.

The EU made another mistake, writes Raf Casert for the Associated Press. They did not take into account all the difficulties involved in producing and distributing such a delicate product as the vaccine against COVID-19. As a result, while some countries were thinking about logistics and achieving high speed and high volume deliveries, the EU focused on liability clauses in the contract.

The nature of the current crisis is different, but the EU has seen the same obstacles time and again: burdensome bureaucracy, pointless delays due to legal and technical disputes, and bickering politicians who put personal interests before the common good.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.