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Sensemaker: The vaccine gulf

Monday 22 March 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Eight million Australians were told to avoid unnecessary travel as the worst floods in a century paralysed New South Wales.
  • Protesters hurled stones at police and smashed police station windows on what Bristol’s mayor called a shameful day for the city.
  • Fabio Grillo, 53, returned to duty directing traffic in Rome’s Piazza Venezia for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

The vaccine gulf

Tens of millions of doses of Covid vaccines have been exported from the EU to other countries. None have been exported from the UK or the US to the EU. And EU leaders who want to hold on to some of these doses are being told by the British government to “grow up”. 

From a European perspective the contrast between the UK’s breakneck vaccination programme and a European one that has hardly started looks horribly inept but also horribly unfair. For the UK government that delivered Brexit it looks like vindication.

It’s worth being clear on a few points:

  • The chronologies and smallprint don’t lie. Kate Bingham, the UK’s vaccine czar, placed more orders, faster, with fewer conditions, than the EU. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the first three vaccines much faster than its EU counterpart, and the UK roll-out has been properly resourced and spectacularly effective, especially this past weekend, when it was jabbing up to 27 arms a second.
  • All Pfizer’s European vaccine manufacturing capacity is in Belgium and AstraZeneca has an important contract with Halix in the Netherlands. So it’s not surprising that while zero doses have been imported to the EU from the UK or the US, more than 41 million have been exported to other countries. Nonetheless, it is a fact, and it makes the UK and the US look like vaccine hoarders
  • Brexit tensions are exaggerating the schadenfreude on one side and the resentment on the other. But they don’t alter the epidemiological reality that vaccine shortages and third waves in the EU create more scope for new variants to spread and so represent a threat to the UK.

So there is a self-interested case for Britain to seek to help the EU speed up its roll-out rather than scold it for threatening to ban exports from the Halix plant. Geopolitically this might also be the moment for magnanimity rather than nationalism.

The bigger picture is that 90 per cent of the 400 million Covid doses administered globally so far have gone to rich countries. Meanwhile a new US trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine has found it to be 100 per cent effective at preventing severe disease. 

Nick Timothy can’t resist another told-you-so column in the Telegraph attributing the EU’s vaccine mess to internal bickering, ill-advised haggling and Macron’s reported insistence that Brussels place big orders with France’s Sanofi (whose vaccine would in due course fail). This would be a good week for Timothy’s successors in Downing Street to look forward rather than back. 

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Actual reparations
The Chicago suburb of Evanston is to start making $25,000 payments to Black homeowners for home repairs and mortgage payments as part of an effort to compensate for decades of racist housing policies. Those policies – excluding Blacks from long-term wealth accumulation via property ownership – are increasingly seen in the US as a continuation of the economic oppression of slavery by other means, and thus as grounds for reparations. Evanston has spent $10 million on similar schemes so far, but there is some way to go before policymakers accept an obligation to pay reparations on the scale recommended by the German scholar Thomas Craemer. He put the value of American slaves’ foregone wages between 1776 and 1865 at between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion, including interest. 

New things technology, science, engineering

A senior advisor to Donald Trump says the former president will be back on social media within two to three months, on his own platform. Jason Miller said the new platform had been discussed at a series of meetings in Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where the Trumps are now living, and would draw tens of millions of followers. Trump had 88 million on Twitter before his account was permanently suspended. Enjoy the silence. 

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Metals boom
The price of lithium has doubled since November. That of cobalt has risen by 50 per cent and those of copper, nickel and aluminium are heading inexorably up, Le Figaro reports (€). They’re all essential in the manufacture of the lithium ion batteries and electric motors that power electric cars, and China’s rapid recovery from Covid has led to demand surges there and price movements worldwide. This is a win-win for China, which controls much of the global supply of these metals by dominating processing even where it doesn’t dominate extraction. It’s less of a win for the planet because of the opencast mining involved – or for China’s competitors. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Lethal crossing 
A two-year-old girl from Mali has died in hospital in the Canaries after making a perilous crossing from West Africa and being resuscitated on arrival. The girl, named Nabody, was in a group of 52 that according to Al Jazeera had spent five days on the open ocean before being picked up by Spain’s maritime rescue service off Gran Canaria. Red Cross nurses were at first able to revive her but she died later having suffered a cardiac arrest. At its closest point, the West African coast is 60km from the Canary Islands. More than 23,000 migrants made the crossing in open boats last year, an eight-fold increase on the year before attributed to tougher policing of Mediterranean migration routes.  

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Incredibly stupid
Lord Palmer, 69, is heir to a British biscuit fortune and says he was expelled from Eton for being “incredibly stupid”. As an hereditary peer he has claimed nearly £1 million in expenses since 2001 and has been a solid friend to the tobacco industry throughout. In a 2011 debate he suggested the UK economy “would literally collapse” if smoking were outlawed. He is one of 85 remaining hereditary peers in the House of Lords, all of whom are men, all of whom are white, most of whom claim more in expenses than life peers and most of whom contribute less in terms of voting and debates. The Sunday Times’s examination of this stunning constitutional anachronism is required reading. 

The week ahead

22/3 – High Court issues judgment in legal action brought by the Duchess of Sussex against Associated Newspapers; Theresa May appears before select committee session on National Security Strategy; ONS release on life expectancy by deprivation, 23/3 – inquest begins into death of nurse Mary Agyapong from coronavirus; Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney appears before select committee session on concussion in sport, 24/3 – Boris Johnson to give evidence to liaison committee on government’s response to Covid; Scottish Parliament rises for recess; court hearing for first UK resident charged with refusing to wear a face mask, 25/3 – Cineworld reports full-year results, 26/3 – court hearing for former soldier charged over attempted murder of IRA suspect; Supreme Court issues judgment on equal pay challenge against Asda

22/3 – court hearing for Canadian national Michael Kovrig, detained in China since December 2018; WHO report on origins of Covid due to be published this week, 23/3 – general election in Israel; Chinese and Russian foreign ministers meet; European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cooke appears before European Parliament, 24/3 – US secretary of state Anthony Blinken meets EU high representative Josep Borrell; court hearing for AP journalist Thein Zaw detained in Myanmar; annual World Bank report released; Tencent reports full-year results, 25/3 – Facebook, Twitter and Google chief executives appear before US House committee hearing on disinformation, 26/3 – European Council meeting, 27/3 – World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour, 28/3 – Holi festival; European Summer Time begins

Thanks for reading; please share this around.

Giles Whittell

Xavier Greenwood

Photographs Getty Images

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