COVID-19: Why the UK is winning the race for vaccines in Europe

The World Health Organization’s special envoy for COVID-19 has asked the UK to deliver the vaccines to other countries once the priority groups have been inoculated.

“I think we should,” British national Dr. David Nabarro said on Sunday, when asked what should happen once the highest risk groups and those over 50 have been vaccinated.

“It’s really a question of what makes sense economically, what makes sense for society, and how we want to be remembered in 10 to 20 years,” he told Sky News.

Government figures updated on Saturday showed that more than 11.4 million people in the UK had received a first dose of vaccination, while more than half a million had also been vaccinated a second time.

Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that at one point on Saturday, health care workers were administering vaccines at a rate of nearly 1,000 per minute.

The UK intends to give the first dose to everyone over 70 and to front-line healthcare workers by 15 February.

EU members receive the first doses of AstraZeneca

As the UK ponders a possible vaccine surplus, many people in the rest of Europe wonder when they will get their first doses.

On Sunday, Spain became the latest country to confirm that it had received its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which will be distributed from Monday.

Bulgaria began injecting its first doses after the country received 28,800 doses on Saturday. The Balkan country of seven million people bet heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is relatively inexpensive and easy to store and use.

Other EU states – France, Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic – received their first shipments on Saturday.

In this way, France has a third vaccine, after those of Pfizer-BionTech and Moderna, and helps to reinforce President Macron’s promise that all French people who want it will be vaccinated by the end of the summer. So far, around 1.8 million people have been inoculated.

In Germany, where 2.1 million people have been vaccinated, the first batches of the newly licensed AstraZeneca vaccine were due to be delivered to all 16 states across the country on Friday.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said that the incorporation of a third vaccine “will make a real difference” in Germany’s immunization campaign, which, as in the rest of Europe, has so far been slow compared to that of the United States. United or Great Britain.

Hungary despairs and becomes unmarked by resorting to the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.

How the UK has come forward …

The UK has managed to avoid some of the vaccine supply problems that the EU has faced to 27 countries, such as when AstraZeneca announced that it had had a production problem.

While the British government invested aggressively and early in vaccination against the coronavirus, the EU has taken a slower and more cautious approach.

In the case of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BionTech vaccines, the UK announced the deals more than three months before the EU. Also in the case of other vaccines, the EU has ordered later than the UK or is still negotiating.

When the EU came into open conflict with AstraZeneca last month over a huge shortfall in planned supplies, its CEO, Pascal Soriot, noted that “the contract with the UK was signed three months earlier than the European vaccine agreement. So with the UK we’ve had three more months to sort out all the problems. “

All this in full tension for the first weeks of application of Brexit. It was important for the UK to present it as an advantage of having left the European Union.

In September, the UK also placed an order for millions of doses of another candidate vaccine from the French pharmaceutical company Valneva. This month he has made another order.

Despite exploratory talks, no contract has been signed with the EU to date. Valneva’s president, Franck Grimaud, told the AP that Britain will get the vaccine doses earlier because it signed first.

… And why the EU has been delayed

The European Commission, which was in charge of purchasing vaccines for the block, obtained competitive prices, but it took time, and the difference of a few months has cost it dearly.

The EU was also slower in approving the vaccines, as, to give greater confidence to the public, it opted for a longer process, conditional approval of placing on the market, which implies greater scrutiny of vaccines by from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), instead of an emergency authorization, a decision that he still defends.

Thus, Great Britain began administering the vaccines on December 8, while the EU did not go live until December 27. Since then it has not made up the delay.

However, the EU approach may have avoided other problems. Without a joint strategy, the smaller and poorer countries of the EU might have had a hard time getting and paying for vaccines. With open borders, divergent national approaches could have led to chaos.

Despite the slow start, the promise of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to vaccinate 70% of the adults of the bloc by the end of the summer, still stands.

Some EU countries remain wary of AstraZeneca

France, Germany and Sweden have decided that, for now, they will only administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people between the ages of 18 and 64, due to a lack of data on older age groups. Belgium has gone further and restricted its use to those under 55, even though this means that carefully established vaccination plans will have to be changed.

All this despite the prudent EMA approving the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU for all adults.

David Nabarro of the WHO also praised the “courage” of the UK in extending the intervals between doses of the vaccine, which, according to him, “appears to be associated with even greater protection”.

Last week, the British health chief praised a new study suggesting that a single dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine offers strong 12-week protection against the virus, saying it supports the government’s much-debated strategy of delaying the second injection. .

Some European countries have been withholding doses to ensure that patients can receive a second injection within the originally recommended shorter period of time, thus denying a first injection for others.

Although it is the champion of vaccines, the United Kingdom gets poor marks in managing the pandemic since the country of 67 million inhabitants has suffered 112,000 deaths from coronavirus, the highest number in Europe.

British health authorities are trying to contain the spread of the variant first identified in South Africa, amid concerns that it is more contagious or resistant to existing vaccines.

The wide circulation of the virus has led to the identification of a variant called British, which is considered much more contagious although not dangerous.

WHO warning on vaccine nationalism

The World Health Organization’s special envoy for COVID-19 also said on Sunday that the world needs to have equal access to coronavirus vaccines, and urged wealthier countries to leave vaccine nationalism behind.

Dr. David Nabarro told Sky News that the priority is to first vaccinate those who are vulnerable to the virus, especially healthcare workers and the elderly around the world, rather than aiming to inoculate different nations.

“The world should have equitable access to these vaccines,” said David Nabarro of the WHO, adding that this was the only way to cope with a global pandemic.

“I am very hopeful that world leaders will realize in the coming weeks that the fact that a few countries vaccinate a lot of people, and that the poorest countries have very limited vaccines, is not really the way forward, nor economically, not socially, not environmentally, much less morally “.