I’m not happy with the European Commission’s actions this week but I think the EU will now emerge from the pandemic with a better sense of what is important. A harsh set of lessons at a terrible price.
The vaccine delivery issue is one of policy and research funding. The United States unleashed a torrent of money to manufacturers with Operation Warpspeed, $10B or more. The EU put up $3B with the idea that Europe, home to the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world, just had to prime the pump and the free market would do the rest.
When everyone is a buyer the market operates in one way, attention moves to those spending the most money. Both the US and the UK governments took a hands on approach to ensuring vaccine started moving and they spent the cash to make it happen. For a Union accused of being happy with statist intervention at a drop of a hat, the fact that EU members national governments were put on the sidelines, with the expectation the invisible hand of the market would take care of everything, is a surprising turn of events.
That said, Germany would probably be the only vaccinated nation in Europe were governments given free reign from the beginning. Angela Merkel’s vaccine summit with the German Pharma industry on Monday will be a return to hands on statist intervention but with a continental emergency focus. Macron has already leaned on Sanofi to assist in the finishing of hundreds of millions of doses of someone else’s vaccine later this year. France’s failure to develop their own vaccine has to sting. It should, France being the home of the Pasteur Institute. The organisation that used to be at the forefront of thought in biological and disease science. National pride demands a rethink on France’s anaemic funding of scientific research. It remains to be seen if any such rethink will happen.
How about Ireland, would Ireland been better off going it alone and buying its own vaccines on the open market? No. With a population of 4.49 million Ireland would have found itself at the back of a very expensive queue when it came to a vaccine purchase order. Buying as part of the Bloc means Ireland has seen constrained supplies but the deliveries do happen and see jabs being put into arms. Turbulence ahead for sure but the EU will come out the other side of the vaccine delivery fiasco, bruised, battered and hopefully a bit bowed as well.
Moments of learning require humility.