Is England a selfish country

The vaccine war

The Belgian Ministry of Health sent pharmaceutical experts to the town of Seneffe on Thursday, where COVID-19 vaccine is being produced on behalf of AstraZeneca in a factory of the French pharmaceutical manufacturer Novasep. They took samples, saved data and promised a report of results in a few days.

The aim of the investigation is to clarify whether Seneffe actually has the production problems that AstraZeneca uses as a reason to cut delivery quantities in Europe by three quarters. The Belgian experts work together with experts from the Netherlands, Italy and Spain for the evaluation. A ministry spokesman in Brussels said that they acted at the request of the EU Commission.

AstraZeneca has lost credibility

The inspection at the Belgian pharmaceutical manufacturer makes it clear that the EU Commission no longer believes AstraZeneca. Since CEO Pascal Soriot's interview with several European daily newspapers, in which he denied contractual delivery obligations to the EU, the tone has become increasingly sharp. The dispute is over whether vaccine was shipped from EU factories to the British Isles or whether the doses for Britain would have to be cut in order to supply Europe on an equal footing.

AstraZeneca should adhere to the agreed delivery quantities - demands the EU

In an interview with the BBC in London, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove expressly rejected this option: "No, we have to ensure that the agreed schedule, on which our vaccination program is based, is implemented as planned." Vaccine could not be passed on and one would have to wait to help other countries. The tabloids, on the other hand, see the matter clearly: "No, the EU cannot have our vaccinations," writes the Daily Mail. And the Daily Express says: "Wait your turn! The selfish EU wants our vaccine."

Obviously, both sides start from different facts. The UK government claims it has some kind of first delivery right because it signed the contract with AstraZeneca earlier than the EU. Brussels, in turn, declares that their contract with the pharmaceutical company contains clear delivery quantities and data. These obligations must be adhered to, regardless of what the company has promised third parties.

The problems of interpretation could easily be cleared up if the contract between AstraZeneca and the EU were finally published. The company was asked to do so, said commission spokesman Eric Mamer today: "Our intention is to publish it." The question is, why doesn't the agency just do it, because CEO Pascal Soriot has already broken the confidentiality agreements for his part.

more transparency

At the same time, a new transparency mechanism is to be adopted by the EU member states tomorrow, a kind of export control for vaccines. "We do not comment on whether vaccine has been supplied to the UK from the EU. We are putting in a (control) mechanism and no one should doubt that we can get this information," said Mamer.

First of all, it should be observed whether vaccine is exported. In view of the situation with neighboring countries, clarity is needed, said EU officials. The mechanism does not contain a general export ban, but gives the Commission and the member states the opportunity to do so. Taxpayers in Europe are owed transparency because the EU has invested heavily in the pre-emptive agreements. If a company has signed several contracts in parallel, it is not a question of who is served first. It is rather the task of the group to make all deliveries.

Pressure on the Commission is increasing

Meanwhile, the pressure on the EU Commission is growing: Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer has now declared that the vaccine should have been ordered "more aggressively and on a larger scale". And his colleague, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, has announced a separate vaccination summit for the German government with representatives from the pharmaceutical industry. Regarding the situation with AstraZeneca and the dispute with Great Britain, he says: "There can also be setbacks in production", but problems would arise if there was the impression that not all (customers) were affected at the same time.

WHO vaccine expert, Siddharta Datta, believes that working together to produce vaccines is the right way to go

As for production, Brussels is getting help from the World Health Organization. The WHO vaccines expert for Europe explains that there are always "initial problems with vaccine production and vaccination campaigns". Siddhartha Datta adds: "Nobody can produce the entire vaccine on this scale on their own." And the European head of WHO, Dr. Hans Kluge, reports of hot telephone lines. He spoke to the EU Council President and the Health Commissioner, but "the reality is that there will be a shortage of vaccine for a long time".

The liberal MEP Andreas Glück, on the other hand, demands insight into the contracts: "If the EU Commission has overslept a bit, then we have to investigate." He is not against the joint procurement of vaccines, but wants to be able to determine "whether the EU Commission negotiated badly or AstraZeneca is not meeting its promise."

EU threatens pharmaceutical industry

EU Council President Charles Michel has now published a letter to a number of member countries containing tangible threats to the pharmaceutical industry: If the conflicts cannot be resolved through negotiations, the EU will "take all legal steps and enforcement measures that it can take under the crisis mechanism of the EU treaties are available ". This would give the member states the legal opportunity to take emergency measures to ensure effective vaccine production and the supply of their citizens.

EU Council President Charles Michel threatens emergency measures by the EU

That seems to point to compulsory licensing, a path that a number of MEPs are increasingly supporting. The Belgian MP Marc Botenga sees two ways of doing this. On the one hand one could apply for the transfer of rights through the World Health Organization, on the other hand through the World Trade Organization. There is already a corresponding application from South Africa and India. If the EU formed a coalition with both countries, such a proposal could gain political weight.

It is the conservative idea of ​​the inviolability of intellectual property that has so far prevented the Commission from taking such steps, Botenga said. "In a crisis like this pandemic, you have to think outside the box," he argues. After all, through its financial support, the EU has largely taken on the risk for the development of the vaccines and thus relieved the pharmaceutical companies. That is why it is only right if they now share rights.

If such licenses were granted, other vaccine manufacturers could be involved in production and production could be accelerated internationally. Finally, the EU should not permanently undermine intellectual property rights. "The pandemic is an exception." And if enough large member countries allied, the current problems could be solved.