Without false modesty, this blog has been ahead of the curve on the AstraZeneca (AZ) covid vaccines affair. It exposed almost two months ago the arrogant lies of Pascal Soriot, AZ's CEO, in his attempts to bamboozle the EU into accepting that it should be treated as a second-class client, hinted at the likely foul play by the UK Government and at the toxic mix with Brexit politics. By March, statements made here - e.g. on the de facto vaccine export ban instituted by the UK or on the need to limit exports to ensure that AZ is serving fairly its EU contract - were part of the line taken by senior EU officials, such as European Council President Charles Michel, or European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
On the other hand, this blog didn't hesitate to call out the ineptitude of some national leaders' comments on the AZ vaccine and of some national regulators' decisions on its roll-out - a stupidity compounded by last week's temporary suspension of the vaccine in almost half of the Member States, based on mainly political considerations, in spite of the advice of EU's own regulator. And it also criticised the Commission's short-lived intention to invoke Art.16 of the Northern Ireland protocol as a very consequential political gaffe, which gave a pretext for the UK to try to wriggle out of its legal obligations.
As the vaccine-related escalation between the EU and the UK is now in full swing, the ongoing war of narratives creates a lot of noise that can easily distract from the fundamentals. It's therefore timely to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and scratch a bit the surface to bring up some rather counter-intuitive insights.
I will try to argue that:
- the AZ (and broader covid vaccines) scandal is more of a political stake than an actual public health issue;
- in the medium term the EU's problem is not the shortage of vaccines, but a very different one;
- UK's apparent triumph on the vaccines is far from vindicating Brexit, rather the contrary; and
- the EU is very well positioned for success in the longer term, but only if it manages to overcome its existential challenges in the short term.