The Roots of the EU’s Vaccine Debacle
Europe's slow COVID-19 vaccination rollout highlights, yet again, that it is not institutionally suited to nimble executive action, and that its complicated decision-making mechanisms are an obstacle to accountability. As long as this remains true, crises will continue to get the better of Europe.
BRUSSELS – When it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, Europe is lagging far behind its peers. So far, less than 15% of the European Union’s population has received at least one dose, compared to 31% in the United States and 45% in the United Kingdom. The EU’s failure is so profound that the normally placid World Health Organization recently felt compelled to reiterate the obvious: the slow vaccine rollout will prolong the pandemic, with high human and economic costs.
In March 2020, the EU seemed to be on the right track. With the pandemic picking up, it was agreed that the European Commission would negotiate advance-purchase agreements for a portfolio of vaccine candidates on behalf of member states. That way, when a candidate proved safe and effective, enough doses would be made available to Europeans.
At the end of last year, the Commission proudly announced that it had concluded contracts for over two billion vaccine doses – more than enough for the EU’s total population of 440 million. As doses arrived, they would be distributed on a per capita basis, thereby avoiding unseemly tensions like those that emerged in the early months of the pandemic, when a rush to claim limited supplies of personal protection equipment pitted member states against one another.