EU vaccine delay has caused needless suffering

by Tommaso Venditti

The pandemic crisis is still hitting the headlines. At the moment, the situation seems to be generally stabilising, with few spikes in terms of new cases and death tolls. At a European level, the situation substantially improved in the last weeks. The macrosystem as a whole experienced a widespread sharp rise in new cases just after the summer. In fact, in Italy, for instance, the infection index was dangerously high. This worsened the already unstable environment, both in an economic and psychological sense.

There were mass protests across Europe, with angry and frustrated crowds particularly in the main cities. People could not handle the situation much longer, with general unhappiness in the productive sectors of the society, such as traders and artisans. In particular, the hospitality sector – restaurants, bars and clubs – have all struggled terribly during the pandemic, from the varied restrictions and lockdowns that each government has imposed. Most businesses, large and small, demanded subsidies and government aid to prevent their collapse.

The welcome news of vaccines being rolled out has come at a good time. Research started almost immediately as the world raced to find a cure. Most of the recent delays have been in the “quality control” stages, as the vaccine must go through rigorous testing before being allowed into general use.

The United Kingdom has stolen a march on the rest of Europe in releasing the vaccine. It has already started distributing the Pfizer vaccine to its population. This has been possible due to its post-Brexit decision to not participate in the EU’s vaccine process. This appears to have been a masterstroke as the EU has not even approved the use of the vaccine, let alone started the complicated system to dispense the vaccine.

The later the roll out, the later the general population will be able to access the vaccine, as quite sensibly, emergency services and healthcare personnel will be first in line. People are still dying and what appears to have been unnecessary delay by the EU could mean that hundreds of people could suffer unnecessarily due to the excess red tape that the vaccine has been tied up in, compared to nations such as the UK.

It is not just the health of citizens in Europe that the delay has risked. In economic terms, most countries have faced a huge drop in GDP and productivity, not to mention unemployment. The main reasons for this positive, or at least neutral, impact could be found in the promotion of measures and government provisions that are specifically designed to ensure workers are not fired by their employers due to the pandemic. Many nations have implemented “furlough” schemes where companies that could not use workers as normal – perhaps due to lockdowns – were supported by the government to retain jobs rather than just releasing employees.

The impact on jobs has been 10 times bigger than that of the global financial crisis in 2007-2008. What is more, unemployment will remain high in 2021, and is believed to reach at least a 10 per cent average across OECD nations by the end of 2020. This is roughly 5.3 per cent higher than at the end of 2019, with some estimates expecting unemployment to go above 12 per cent if there is a large global second wave.

Therefore, even with the recent news that the approval process has been brought forward from December 29 to the 21st, it seems bizarre that the EU was so keen to allow such a delay in rolling out the vaccine. After all, if the process could be brought forward now, so close to the end of the year, why could it not be brought forward earlier and approved at a similar time to the United Kingdom. The longer the delay, the longer that people suffer and returning to normal moves further and further away. 

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