Doubts within EU over UK vaccine puzzle

Kathy Heffernan, a train driver, walked out of the Brighton vaccination center grateful for receiving her first Oxford / AstraZeneca injection and grateful that – at least on this aspect of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic – the UK government was at the forefront .

“I am not a Boris Johnson supporter [the UK prime minister], but he did a great thing by taking a kick out and getting his hands on several vaccines, ”she said. By contrast, Europe – and like a majority in the south coast city, it was a supporter of EU membership in the 2016 referendum – played politics with lives, she said. said, “It’s very strange. They scare their own people not to get vaccinated. “

United Kingdom, vaccine safety questions in Europe, the suspension of its deployment last week and a parallel war of words between Brussels and London over the export of coveted supplies, has baffled EU supporters and Brexiters.

“If Europe is to win this argument with other populist parties that might want to follow Britain’s path, they have to come up with a better strategy,” said Tom Baldwin, the party’s former director of communications and strategy. opposition Labor Party and a leading figure in the 2019 Campaign for a second UK referendum on EU membership. “The EU risks losing its moral standing, allowing itself to be portrayed as incompetent and undemocratic.”

British government early investment in research and procurement Last year, before any of the vaccines in development proved effective, gave Britain a head start once regulators approved AstraZeneca and BioNTech / Pfizer injections. The EU has chosen to procure vaccines as a block rather than as individual states, and its medical agency has been slower in providing approvals.

Tensions between Britain and Brussels have since intensified, more than 27m having now received their first vaccine injection in the UK – second only to Israel in proportion to its population – while the EU program has stumbled amid supply constraints and a third wave of the looming pandemic .

Meanwhile, questions about a possible link between the vaccine and blood clots have appeared in several EU countries, prompting member states to suspend deployment, out of caution. The European Medicines Agency on Thursday deemed the vaccine “safe and effective” and France, Italy, Germany and Spain resumed vaccination. But deployment in Norway, a non-EU country, in Denmark and Sweden stay on hold and the French health agency subsequently recommended not to administer it to people under the age of 55.

“You could extrapolate and say that we are being more nimble,” said Ed Derby, an audio engineer who had also just received his hit in Brighton. “It confirmed my feelings. I’m glad we got out [of the EU]. “

Ed Derby, a Brighton resident who had just received his Covid-19 vaccination, said the speed of the UK program confirmed Britain was right to leave the EU © Charlie Bibby / FT

The dispute offered the Johnson government a public relations victory after months of negative press over the UK’s high coronavirus death toll – which stands at around 126,000 and is among the highest per capita in the world. Brexiters, who would otherwise have struggled to defend their cause after a collapse of trade with the EU since Britain left the bloc in January, feel justified.

‘Because they are pissed off that we got there, and it goes against their memory that Britain made a bad decision [in leaving the EU], the EU is trying to criticize us, ”said Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the ruling Conservative Party and longtime Eurosceptic.

So far, concerns on the continent over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine do not appear to have significantly hampered adoption in Britain, although some doctors are reporting more safety inquiries than before.

A big disconnect between Britons and EU citizens in this phase of the pandemic lies in the acceptance of vaccines: the former are among the most willing in the world to be vaccinated – 78% of respondents, according to one global survey published in January by Imperial College London. At the same time, 44% of French people questioned in the survey said they would not seek to be vaccinated.

Anti-vaccination protesters in London.  Medical experts fear EU uncertainty over Oxford / AstraZeneca hit will fuel vaccine skepticism
Anti-vaccination protesters in London. Medical experts fear EU uncertainty over Oxford / AstraZeneca hit will fuel vaccine skepticism © Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images

But experts at the Vaccine Confidence Project, a research group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, fear the recent tragedies across the Channel could play into Britain’s anti-vaxxers’ game. They could also heighten doubts among younger people, who are less vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with coronavirus and more skeptical of the vaccine.

“The damage will last for months, especially as the public in Europe and the UK are aware that there are different vaccines and people are getting fussy,” said Simon Piatek, digital analysis expert at VCP.

In Britain, some believe that post-Brexit politics, rather than science, informed Europe’s approach and that the UK’s position was on that occasion the opposite.

“The UK recognizes that it’s fundamentally about vaccinating people because the virus is killing them,” said Jonathon Kitson, member of the Adam Smith neoliberal institute.

Anand Menon, who leads the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, said it was “spurious” to call the success of Britain’s vaccination program a result of Brexit. But this had helped to mask the negative impact of the commercial break with Europe. He feared that the bad blood on the vaccines was a sign of things to come.

Standing on Brighton seafront after receiving his hit, David Ruffett, project manager at a medical company, said despite all the recent tensions he still believed Britain would be better off inside the ‘EU.

“I don’t think the fighting between the UK and the EU fixes the problem,” he said. “Regarding vaccines, we have been more agile, as our politicians point out. But there are many other areas where we will not be. “

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