Why the EU lost the vaccine war - by Bruno Macaes for UnHerd

The bloc is ill-at-ease with technology, and that will be its downfall


February 2, 2021


Bruno Maçães is a Portuguese political scientist, politician, business strategist, author and is currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington. He was the Portuguese Europe Minister from 2013-2015


The article begins with these comments:


One of the most striking developments in the early months of coronavirus was the way that the disaster very soon became a contest between states. Always heralded as a textbook case of the need for global cooperation, pandemics turned out to be prime examples of global competition.


Indeed, once media outlets were able to compare the outbreaks in different countries, most public discussions started to resemble sports commentary — “How your country compares”, as the Financial Times put it. Some countries were praised for the way they were able to flatten the curve. Others seemed to compete only to avoid being last. There were long debates about the most appropriate metrics to evaluate relative performance and elaborate explanations of why some excelled while others failed.


For a while, Sweden seemed to be a winner. Months later it was declared a loser. Germany went from exceptional to average, but New Zealand kept surpassing itself, announcing by the end of the year that it was now reaching the benchmark for coronavirus elimination. One newspaper wrote about Italy, in lines evoking a story worthy of the Olympics, how “Spooked by the dramatic death toll in the Lombardy region, the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte sprang into action, using the license he won through emergency decrees to get the country’s famously sclerotic administration moving. That helped Italy flatten the curve more quickly than anyone thought possible.” Morbid league tables multiplied. They were criticised, of course, but most often because the picture they offered was too static to reflect the realities of the ongoing competition.


With the arrival of the vaccines, state competition took a new form, but not a milder one: an ugly global race for enough doses in which the losers are denied a quick path out of the pandemic. Suddenly, the laggards from the previous iteration of the game seemed for the first time to be ahead. The United Kingdom was the first jurisdiction to approve the new vaccine and quickly pulled ahead of other large advanced economies in the race to vaccinate its population, a rare pandemic success for the country.


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