The EU is playing dirty in the vaccine wars

Having royally botched its vaccine programme, the EU is now threatening Brexit Britain’s supplies.

26th January 2021The EU is playing dirty in the vaccine warsShareTopicsBREXITPOLITICSSCIENCE & TECHUKWORLD

The vaccine race has turned ugly. Really ugly. German government sources have used the German press to brief fake news about the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and the EU has threatened to block exports of the Pfizer vaccine to Britain.

Until these bombshells were dropped, you could have been forgiven for wondering if the EU was even taking part in the vaccine race, as Brexit Britain has vastly outpaced the rollout on the continent.

In fact, defenders of the EU (apparently such people still exist) have been assuring us that there was nothing wrong with the slower pace. ‘What’s so great about going first?’, sneered one writer in the Guardian on the day the first Brits received their vaccines. Fewer deaths, perhaps? An end to lockdown? A spokesman for Belgium’s Covid-19 crisis centre suggested that his country (which has suffered the highest Covid deaths per capita in the entire world) could afford a slower rollout because the restrictions were working just fine. One MEP, apparently convinced that the rollout needed more hurdles, has petitioned the European Commission to make sure that all vehicles and boxes delivering the vaccines are emblazoned with the EU flag.

You can see why supporters of the EU would want to deflect the issue. The EU took charge of two key aspects of the vaccine process – the procurement and the approval – and both of these have created pointless (and deadly) delays.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was the first agency in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine, on 2 December – 20 days before the European Medicines Agency (EMA), giving the UK a huge headstart. Then, on 30 December, the MHRA approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – it has still not been approved by the EU.

Procurement has consistently run into trouble, too. At the end of last year Der Spiegel warned that supplies could fall short. The EU had secured just 300million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the only one at the time to have been approved in the world. And despite the fact that EU member states had agreed to pool the procurement process, earlier this month it was revealed that Germany had bought an extra 30million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, behind everyone’s backs. Then, last week, AstraZeneca announced that it would not be able to fulfil its order to the EU. The EU was due to receive 100million doses in the first quarter of 2021, but one senior EU official fears it could be just 31million doses.

The EU has blamed AstraZeneca for the supply issues, but in truth this is a catastrophe made in Brussels. As ITV’s Robert Peston has pointed out, the UK secured a deal with AstraZeneca in May, three months before the EU did, giving AstraZeneca an additional three months to sort out problems with the UK supply chain (of which there were many). In June, AstraZeneca reached preliminary agreements with the Inclusive Vaccine Alliance – made up of Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy. But then, the European Commission took over the negotiations on behalf of the whole of the EU, adding an extra two months of talks which resulted in ‘no material changes’. The EU is now paying for that wasted time.

It is in this context of failure that the EU and Germany are now throwing their toys out of the pram. German government sources briefed the financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, on Monday night, that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was only eight per cent effective on older people. This would be devastating for Germany’s planned rollout – but even more so for Britain’s, which has already vaccinated millions of vulnerable people using the home-grown jab.

AstraZeneca denied this immediately. And – after letting the news spread overnight – the German health authorities made clear that the sources had muddled the figures: ‘Around eight per cent of participants in the AstraZeneca efficacy trials were aged between 56 and 69 years old… This does not result in an efficacy of only eight per cent among seniors.’

Today, a day after the Handelsblatt bombshell, the EU has told Pfizer that it must secure EU permission before exporting doses from its Belgian factory to Britain. Germany has even suggested that vaccine exports could be blocked to secure the EU’s supply. The UK government says it is confident that it will meet its target of vaccinating the vulnerable by mid-February. And the UK’s own supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are unaffected. Nevertheless, the EU’s intervention has thrown the later stages of the rollout into doubt.

Having royally screwed up its own vaccination programme, the EU now wants to take it out on Brexit Britain.

The EU is playing dirty in the vaccine wars – spiked (


Why the Dutch are rioting

The riots are wrong and heartbreaking. But many people feel desperate in this lockdown.

JOHN LEE SHAW26th January 2021Why the Dutch are riotingShareTopicsPOLITICSWORLD

We in the UK say we are turning a blind eye to something. In the Netherlands, they say, ‘we zullen het door de vingers zien’, which means, we’ll see it through the fingers. It is how the Dutch communicate that they are letting something slide.

The Dutch government has been seeing a lot through the fingers lately, especially the effects of its pandemic response. And it is not going well. Over the weekend, tensions boiled over, with unrest and rioting in many parts of the country. The Dutch capital of Amsterdam was a hotspot, and there were flare-ups in Rotterdam and Den Bosch. But it was Eindhoven that was the worst hit, with rioters setting cars on fire, smashing windows, and pelting the police with rocks and fireworks.

Dutch media reported around 300 arrests on Sunday, with many remaining in custody well into Monday. While this will undoubtedly shock those who know the Netherlands well, tensions have been rising steadily since Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and his government placed the country under lockdown in mid-December.

The new lockdown meant that Christmas was all but cancelled, as strict social restrictions were brought in to prevent households from mixing. As in the UK, businesses have been hit hard, with many unable to trade. Not only have bars and restaurants been forced to close, but so have any shops not deemed ‘essential’.

This decision was taken when as many as 10,000 new Covid-19 cases a day were being reported. As Rutte announced it, there were jeers and whistles from protesters gathered outside. Though he said 9 January was the date on which restrictions would end, this was always treated with scepticism by the Dutch public. So, few were surprised when it was extended to 19 February. And you won’t find much confidence that it will end then, either.

The imposition of an additional curfew has further stoked tensions. This means that as of Saturday, the Dutch are forced to stay off of the streets between 9pm and 4:30am. Violating the curfew risks a fine of at least 95 euros. This new measure is seen by many as the latest in a series of whimsical infringements on Dutch life. In many quarters, it seems to be the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

According to Mark Rutte, 99 per cent of the Dutch public are complying with the various restrictions, and that may be true. However, the feeling I get is that people’s compliance is becoming increasingly begrudging. Many here, who have already been placed under severe pressure financially, also feel they are kissing their way of life goodbye bit by bit. This is leading to a rise in resentment towards the government and authorities.

And Rutte already has enough problems, not least that he is leading a caretaker government at the moment. On 15 January, he handed his resignation and that of his cabinet to King Willem-Alexander. This followed the results of an inquiry into a child-benefits scandal, which led to approximately 26,000 parents being falsely accused of fraud and made to pay back thousands of euros. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the inquiry found that the tax authority broke the law by investigating in a discriminatory way and with institutional bias. Due to heavy criticism of Rutte and his cabinet, they resigned en masse.

However, the resignation is a sleight of hand. Not only are Rutte and his cabinet remaining in their posts until a new government is in place — they are also likely to be returned at the General Election, scheduled for March. This ‘pseudo-resignation’ has been widely slated by Dutch opposition MPs, who have called for those involved also to take themselves off the candidates list. Rutte for one has ruled that out.

Just days ago, Rutte suffered a slip of the tongue in the Dutch parliament. During the debate on the curfew, he shocked many by stating that his government actually has more power due to its caretaker status. Upon being quickly corrected about this, he added, ‘well, they can’t get rid of us’, much to his own amusement. At a time when the people he serves are suffering so much, this flippancy, not to mention arrogance, has not gone down well.

Of course, this is not to endorse the rioting. The scenes of hostility, wilful damage and looting I am witnessing on the streets of this normally peaceful and tolerant country are heart-breaking. Worryingly, just how peace is going to be restored is as yet unclear. Bringing in the military has been ruled out for now, but with more violence and looting taking place on Monday, calls for that to change are increasing.

There is certainly much cause for reflection here, not least by the people holding the power and calling the shots. They have destroyed people’s livelihoods and they have taken away their freedom. Extraordinary times or not, they should expect to be held accountable.

John Lee Shaw is a freelance writer based in the Netherlands.

Why the Dutch are rioting – spiked (

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