Delays in COVID-19 vaccine delivery threaten vaccine wars

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On January 26, the European Union announced the potential imposition of export controls on approved COVID-19 vaccines after a dispute with the UK-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, given the stark difference in delayed delivery and the originally promised quantity of the lifesaving jab.

The new delivery schedule is unacceptable, said Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, in yesterday’s press briefing.

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The rapid development and fastidious rollout of COVID-19 vaccines have marked a historic milestone for medicine, science and the global public. Delays in the production and delivery of the lifesaving jab threaten to reverse the groundbreaking steps in combating the virus, catalyzing discussions on blocks in vaccine exports and uncertainty over the second jab as countries scramble to secure their share of vaccine and a way out of the pandemic.

“I can understand that there are production problems, but then it must affect everyone the same way, said Jens Spahn, German Health Minister, to ZDF television earlier this week. “This is not about Europe first, but about Europe’s fair share.”

Calling all reports false, AstraZeneca’s Chief Executive, Pascal Soriot, told the European Commission on Monday that the company will be unable to deliver the previously promised COVID-19 vaccines to the European Union until late March.

Even without the vaccine’s approval, AstraZeneca received an upfront payment of $408 million (336 million euros) from the European Union in August last year for at least 300 million doses, according to Reuters.

Delayed COVID-19 vaccine distribution as a gateway to vaccine nationalism

As the wealthy European countries grapple with the latest wave in COVID-19 cases and delayed vaccine delivery, the global vaccine race has been drawing lines around trust, nationalism, and monopolization of vaccines.

“Vaccines that leave the EU need a permit so that we at least know what is being manufactured, what is leaving Europe - and when it leaves Europe, whether there will be a fair distribution,” added Spahn earlier this week.

With the EU’s approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine expected later in the week, Kyriakides asked AstraZeneca for more clarity and transparency over the global vaccine delivery schedule, emphasizing that the Union seeks a return of its investment in the jab it helped finance.

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The European Union “will take any action required to protect its citizens and its rights,” added Kyriakides after AstraZeneca announced that it is cutting its initial vaccine delivery to the Union by 60 percent.

While Europe prepares to handle vaccine delays, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters in a press briefing that he expects the Union to honor its contracts in supplying the UK with the Pfizer vaccine.

Traditional ‘vaccine wars’ between pro- and anti-vaxxers within the medical world have entered the world of high politics, prompting debates on EU’s vaccine exports to other countries. The resulting domino effect of delayed vaccine delivery and further deterioration of diplomatic ties is alarming public health experts.

At the second peak of the largest public health crises in nearly a century, the world is entering a new era of possible export blocks on the lifesaving jab and stepping further away from the global unity needed to fight to fight the pandemic.

Many developing and third-world countries have not had the luxury to engage in a bilateral push-and-pull with vaccine producers, prompting their governments to issue urgent approval of the locally made COVID-19 vaccines.

Labeled as Europe’s vaccine drama by the global media, the current clash over the COVID-19 vaccine might be an indicator of the global state of affairs in the coming months.

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