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How neoliberalism and austerity crippled the EU’s COVID response


It remains amazing that the EU got its lunch eaten on COVID vaccine development and capacity by the US and UK, despite the fact that for most or all of the relevant period the latter countries were being led by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson:

But the biggest explanation, the one that has haunted the bloc for months, is as much philosophical as it was operational. European governments are often seen in the United States as free-spending, liberal bastions, but this time it was Washington that threw billions at drugmakers and cosseted their business.

Brussels, by comparison, took a conservative, budget-conscious approach that left the open market largely untouched. And it has paid for it.

In short, the answer today is the same as it was in December, said Dr. Slaoui. The bloc shopped for vaccines like a customer. The United States basically went into business with the drugmakers, spending much more heavily to accelerate vaccine development, testing and production.

“They assumed that simply contracting to acquire doses would be enough,” recalled Dr. Slaoui, whom President Donald J. Trump hired to speed the vaccine development. “In fact what was very important was to be a full, active partner in the development and the manufacturing of the vaccine. And to do so very early.”

The result in Europe is a stumbling inoculation effort that has led to political fallout, with leaders pointing fingers over why some of the world’s richest countries, home to factories that churn out vast quantities of vaccine, cannot keep pace with other wealthy nations in injecting its people.

This is particularly telling:

“Pricing has been important since the beginning,” Sandra Gallina, the E.U.’s main vaccine negotiator, told lawmakers in February. “We are talking about taxpayers’ money.”

The Republicans and Tories aren’t going to apply the obvious lessons here to other areas, but the Democrats should, and the ARP suggests that they’re doing so.

Another factor here — a general commitment to risk aversion — is not necessarily always unwise. But the decision to halt administration of the AtraZenca vaccine based on incidents of blood clotting no higher than the general population reduces the concept to self-parody, particular given the very real downside of sowing distrust in the vaccine. It’s really been a disastrous rollout, a product of bad or misapplied ideas.

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