Observations of an expat: Covid battles and diplomacy

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Squabbles, soft diplomacy, hard diplomacy, and even harder economics are all playing unseemly and seemly roles in the life-saving scramble for coronavirus vaccines.

The pandemic offered an opportunity for global cooperation to combat a global problem. It could have been a template for tackling other globalised problems such as post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change and future pandemics.

But vaccine nationalism has—in the words of World Health Organisation (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – brought the world to the “brink of a moral failure.”

So far the developed world has done a reasonably good job of vaccinating its citizens. Excluding Palestinians, tiny Israel is streets ahead with about 31 percent of its population having received the first Pfizer BioNtech vaccine. The UK has delivered the first round of its immunisations to about 12 percent of its citizens. The US started slow but has picked up pace. About eight percent of Americans have received their first inoculation. EU countries lag behind at two percent.

The European Union’s relatively poor record is attributed to Brussels bureaucracy, political posturing among the 27 countries, poor contract negotiations by its lawyers and bottlenecks at the pharmaceutical companies’ production lines. National health ministers from the 27 countries have turned on Brussels who have responded with threats against the pharmaceutical companies Astra Zeneca and Pfizer BioNtech and warnings about restricting the export of EU-manufactured vaccines outside of the European Union.

The European Union has its problems, but they are nothing compared to those in the developing world. At the latest count 28 people in Sub-Saharan Africa have been vaccinated.

In April last year, the WHO came up with a plan to ensure the fair global distribution of vaccines in a manner which was beneficial to all. It was called COVAX. 156 members of the WHO signed up to it. The US dropped out of the scheme when Trump pulled America out of the WHO, but Biden has now re-joined both the WHO and COVAX.

The thinking behind COVAX is partly altruistic and partly recognition that the pandemic affects the entire world and will not be beaten – in economic and health terms – until the entire world has been vaccinated. It is a huge financial, humanitarian, political, economic and logistical task. The first problem is manufacturing enough doses of the vaccine which – at this stage – is likely to be mainly Astra Zeneca’s offering because it does not require expensive and difficult cold storage facilities.

So far it looks as if two billion doses of the vaccine will be available to developing countries by the end of this year. That is a year later than the developed world and only about a quarter of the world population.

To cover the shortfall China, Russia and India are seeking to expand their global influence by rushing in with vaccine diplomacy. India is well-placed to be a leader in this influence race. It is a pharmaceutical powerhouse. Much of the research is done in Europe and America, but India manufactures 60 percent of the world’s vaccines. One that it manufactures under license is Astra Zeneca.

The Delhi government has made it known that it will be distributing vaccines at little or no cost to a number of countries in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. The obvious exception is Pakistan. Indian diplomats have made it clear that the altruism is meant to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

The Chinese are also flexing their muscles with vaccine diplomacy. Their Sinovac has been ordered by a number of developing countries and is currently being distributed in Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan. But there are questions about its efficacy and even its safety. The vaccine was first tested in the United Arab Emirates but Sinovac has been less than transparent about the test results.

Even more worrying is Russia’s SputnikV vaccine. Moscow is also signing up developing countries in a hearts and minds campaign. But their vaccine was tested on only 76 people before being rushed into manufacture and distribution.

Europe, Britain and America have said that they will make available vaccines and cash to buy vaccines, but so far they have been long on promises and short on delivery or even specifics of future deliveries. This despite the fact that America has ordered twice as many doses as it requires; Britain three times its requirement and Canada five times more than it needs. Norway is the exception. It too has 300 percent more vaccines than it needs and has started sharing them with developing countries.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • Cj Williams 29th Jan '21 - 7:38pm

    It appears that the EU has erected a border between the Republic and NI. Such honest and principled people.

  • David Evans 29th Jan '21 - 7:43pm

    Oh Dear, It just goes to show that the EU also has its share of berks who are not immune from making stupid decisions that play into other people’s hands.


  • The EU has just applied article 16 and put a border between the EU and NI, apparently to stop vaccine being routed into the UK via the back door. We had a EU minister talking about a vaccine war between the UK and Europe what the hell is going on?

  • Surely over ordering by rich countries is part of the solution not part of the problem. Orders have driven production and spares will go into Covax. This gives Covax a flying start.

    And the Janssen vaccine announcing results today is also at cost, and has the advantage of being one dose.

  • Essentially what has happened is the EU were too late to order vaccines and did not spread their beats across enough vaccines ( They still have not signed a contract with Novavax) , they are now running seriously short and so what they are saying is, ANY VACCINE that is made in the EU can be seized and used for EU’s use IF the EU is not reaching their vaccination targets.
    Most countries are going to be seeing a reduction in the amount of vaccines that they were expecting to receive in the early stages and the EU is using this new law to make sure that it does not affect them.

    I dont happen to believe this had anything to do with the dispute over the Oxford Jab, that was just being used as a smoke screen in order for them to seize more supplies of the Pfizer.
    It seems rather convenient to me that Germany does not want to use Oxford for its over 65’s, so it stands to reason they are going to want a larger supply of Pfizer and since it seems Germany was behind pushing for this export ban….

    This is going to damage the EU reputation globally and I would not be surprised if Vaccine manufacturers look to move their operations off EU soil as it will effect their operational commitments and reputations if they are caught up in this EU scandal.

    Really poorly thought about by the EU

  • Little Jackie Paper 29th Jan '21 - 9:31pm

    What this shows is that not every question can be answered with ‘more Europe.’ That is all.

    The EU scheme will come through. Probably despite rather than because of the Commission. It will all be a day late and a dollar short.

    It’s not the end. But hopefully it is the start of a time when the Commission goes back to doing a small number of things and doing them well and stops pretending that subsidiarity is so very 1990s.

  • John Marriott 29th Jan '21 - 9:47pm

    This virus really has sorted things out in a bizarre way. It put paid to Trump, made us see the EU in a less attractive light, called out the PRC, revealed the inadequacy of many governments, including our own and showed us who the good guys (and gals) really are. Perhaps, just perhaps, it might make us realise that there IS more to life than an ever increasing standard of living, a healthy balance sheet and the pursuit of pleasure.

    If we ever come out of this nightmare, will we really have learned our lesson? Oh, I do hope so; but I’m by no means certain.

  • Apparently the EU Bureaucrats didn’t even bother to give advance warning of their decision to trigger Article 16 according to RTE

    Sinn Fein in NI are not happy according to a tweet from Michelle O’Neill. –


    Labour, Conservatives and the Alliance Party are all up in arms about it.

    But from the Lib Dems with their digitised strategy or Ed Davey

    Nothing. Zilch. Sweet nothing.

    Come on guys – get your act together

  • Oops. Four minutes ago we had a retweet of a retweet by our Party President, when it was all over and the EU Bureaucracy have apparently backed down.

    Lib Dems online – Yesterday’s News tomorrow?

  • I am surprised as to how quiet the Lib Dem Leadership has been. If we want to be a party of government then surely we must have some comment on what has been happening with the EU over the last week or so, especially given that we ultimately wish to rejoin eventually. What has happened with the EU will leave a lasting impression on the public opinion and we need to counteract it.

  • @slamdac – Why counteract it? If the EU has made a complete mess of procurement for various reasons then in trying to deflect the blame has made a complete mess of its relationship with several countries. The EU did not even have the decency to discuss its plan to override part of the NI protocol with the main parties, i.e. the Irish Republic, NI and Great Britain before announcing it to the media.

    The EU has demonstrated incompetence and abysmal political and diplomatic judgement.

    Why do you think that you and the party should conduct a public relations exercise on behalf of the EU? That would probably finish off the Lib Dems for good.

  • john oundle 30th Jan '21 - 1:38am

    Macron rubbishes Astra Zenica as ineffective & two hours later EMA approves the vaccine for all age groups,who to believe?

    Or maybe when in a hole stop digging?

  • john oundle 30th Jan '21 - 1:45am


    It’s not just the EU vaccine omnishambles & their appalling Putin style behavior.

    Having inflicted a pandemic on the world, refused to co-operate on the virus, blocked WHO officials from entering their country & with one of the worse human rights records,the EU rewards China with a trade deal.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '21 - 5:13am

    “Excluding Palestinians, Israel is streets ahead….. ”

    No further comment needed!

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Jan '21 - 8:45am

    @Joe Otten
    “Surely over ordering by rich countries is part of the solution not part of the problem. Orders have driven production and spares will go into Covax.”
    I’m not holding my breath on that.

    Money rather than demand drives production in this situation – there is clearly no shortage of demand accross the whole planet for vaccines.

    And consider the likely headlines in certain media outlets if the (dis)UK hands over ‘spare’ vaccine doses to other countries – however poor and exploited.

    Meanwhile the WHO is warning against ‘vaccine nationalism’ e.g.

  • Paul Murray 30th Jan '21 - 9:00am

    The Lib Dem leadership has apparently got nothing whatever to say on this vital issue which is – quite literally – a matter of life and death, has threatened massive disruption on the island of Ireland and will likely redefine our future trading relationship with Europe. But at least we know there’s a vacancy for the post of party treasurer.

  • Helen Dudden 30th Jan '21 - 9:08am

    It seems being civil and treating others with respect has gone out of the window. Actually, for once I agree with WHO, we are morally responsible to other’s.
    You have Johnson arguing with the Scottish representatives, and insisting that it’s perfectly acceptable to travel to a hospital, he is Prime Minister. One of my grandchildren is in nursing, I saw her yesterday from a distance. Not been able to cuddle my great granddaughters for month’s. As Mia said on the phone, it makes her unhappy.
    I think the cracks were showing, at the treatment of the lorry drivers. I thought that inhuman.
    What’s going on at the Napier Barracks, I understand charities are complaining about the conditions and Covid.
    Priti Patel says they are disrespectful.
    Human Rights and human beings.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '21 - 9:46am

    The problem for us, as a small but stroppy collection of islands in very close proximity to a massive trading bloc trying to morph into a single country, is that, when push comes to shove, there can be only one winner in the end, although, clearly our new found agility has landed a few telling blows this time. Now then, Ms Sturgeon, just HOW MANY jobs would you now be dispensing north of the border, if your country had still been in the EU?

    Make the most of it, folks. This particular battle doesn’t mean the vaccine war has been won.

  • Well I,m blowed, who would have expected that the world could come together at the height a of a major catastrophe, and that so many of us are ruled by an assortment self serving idiots makes the mind boggle!!!

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '21 - 10:28am

    @ John Marriott,

    “……a small but stroppy collection of islands in very close proximity to a massive trading bloc trying to morph into a single country, is that, when push comes to shove, there can be only one winner in the end”

    There is some parallel between now and the situation at the beginning of the 19th century with the rise of Napoleonic France. , Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree which brought into effect a total embargo against British trade with Europe.

    There wasn’t a “we’ll fight them on the beaches” mentality to begin with. The British ruling class was divided on the question of a negotiated settlement. The forerunners of the Lib Dems, namely the Whigs, were much more in favour of coming to some accommodation to protect their trade and commerce. From their POV at the time, there looked to be “only one winner” too.

  • Laurence Cox 30th Jan '21 - 11:17am

    This Guardian article from yesterday is a savage indictment of the EU’s incompetence:


    Like Matt Hancock in the article, it is the Trump White House that would have concerned me over the risk of vaccine nationalism, and I would not have imagined that the EU could have botched their procurement so badly. From the article:

    “Rasmus Hansen, the chief executive of Airfinity, a data analytics company working in the life sciences sector, said the EU had failed to invest as it should have in scaling-up production plants.

    “The EU had spent just €1.78bn in “risk money”, cash handed to pharmaceutical companies without any guarantee of a return, compared to €1.9bn by the UK and €9bn by the US, he said. There were consequences.”

    When you consider that the EU27 ‘s population is around four-thirds of the USA’s it gives you an appreciation of just how little they put into giving the vaccine companies the up-front funding to scale up production rapidly.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '21 - 11:26am

    @Peter Martin
    As a self professed student of history I wonder if you are really offering us the big picture. I seem to recall that Great Britain had a bit more going for it back then. Our industrial revolution was already under way, our navy, especially after Trafalgar, definitely ruled the waves and, despite losing our American colonies, we still had a burgeoning empire and, above all, allies in Europe (witness Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna). Our trade with the continent then was clearly not as important as it currently is, blockade or no blockage.

    What we were definitely NOT facing back then was in any way a United Europe. The revolutionary zeal, and a modicum of good fortune, that propelled Bonaparte from an obscure artillery commander, through First Consul to Emperor, was wearing pretty thin in non French countries by the beginning of the second decade of the 19th century. The Battle of Leipzig was surely an example of that. The famous cartoon of Pitt the Younger and Napoleon dissecting the plum pudding of Europe was by then quite wide of the mark.

    No, clearly when it came to vaccine procurement, we evidently got something right and, although there are many problems ahead of us, I certainly do not want to revoke, return or carry on wishing on a star. I’m 77, I’ve got four young grandchildren so I probably haven’t got that much time left to see them grow up a bit more. I want to move on and not fight the battles of the past (although I admit to being more than willing, as this post shows, to TALK about them!).

  • John Marriott, History teaches us many lessons, particularly on how things go wrong, but sadly for too many the lesson is “Oops I did it again.”

    What the EU mess shows is the dangers to everyone of a bureaucracy that is out of control and pushing its own agenda. In that way it is more dangerous than any other aspect of society, because it is answerable to no-one. Historically, Liberals have long been aware of it, but these days we often look for ‘big state’ solutions rather than smaller scale solutions – including personal responsibility.

    Of course there is nothing that has to be wrong with big state solutions, but the risks have to be managed, and most people are very bad at assessing the long term downside and even worse at managing it.

    The EU bureaucracy has now found its outsider to focus all its dark side on in order to deflect internal concern and criticism and we are it. The Conservatives have had their long term target voluntarily become an easy enemy to despise due to its approach to the “vaccine war.”

    I would advise a lot of Liberals to consider the views of AJP Taylor on one cause of the First World War as expressed in “War by Timetable.” However, if you only have half an hour

    https://strategic-book-club.com/2020/05 … jp-taylor/

    All in all, what it shows is the ease with which humanity allows a crisis to be created from a problem (in this case from a divorce, at that time from an assassination), and how what are theoretically contingency measures (Article 16) can become part of a system that exacerbates divisions to near breaking point and on occasions can lead to real conflict and war (vaccine or military) in next to no time.

    We love to pretend that we are all so well educated and clever. What yesterday shows is that we are not.

  • This comes as a useful reminder that in reality The EU is a loose Confederation of mostly Democratic Nations, each with its own Government of Elected Politicians, of varying Politics & quality & all subject to pressure from their own populations & Media.
    “Why are we so far behind The UK ?”
    Its a reasonable question to which The Politicians involved dont have a good answer. Blaming Foreigners is always an easy way out unfortunately & in this case “WE” are the scapegoats.
    All Liberals should condemn The EU,s actions in the strongest terms.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '21 - 11:55am

    @David Evans
    I can’t really argue with what you are saying. In my response to Peter Martin I referred to the famous Gilray cartoon of Pitt and Napoleon cutting up the plum pudding of the world. What we could do today is to redraw that cartoon only this time just stick to Europe an have the protagonists as the two M’s, Macron and Merkel, of which I am sure Mr Martin would approve. Taylor’s theory was that it was the railways, used extensively back in 1914 to move large numbers of troops from A to B, whose rigid timetable, once enacted, could not be rescinded. Perhaps one might argue that Dr Beeching actually had a point. And then, of course, there’s HS2.

    Yes, I am fully acquainted with Dr Taylor’s famous unscripted televised ‘lectures’ and the one to which you refer in particular.

  • The EU claim that they have a contract that clearly guarantees them a certain number of Astra Zeneca vaccines. They say that the UK is behaving in a Trump-like manner by hoarding the vaccines. Anyone have a comment/response to that?

  • Yes the EU has not had its finest moment over their vaccination rollout but a very good article by Stephen Bush, political Editor of the New Statesman, printed in yesterday’s “I” newspaper, gives good balanced reasons for the conflict arising from the distribution of vaccines, well better than I could.

  • The UK has provided partnership, expertise, funding and encouragement to the vaccine makers at every stage including research, development, clinical trials, pilot trials, scale up and production, with parallel involvement of the regulatory approval experts along the way. It is no accident that the UK was ahead of the world in getting vaccinations started.

    EU member states started making their own arrangements then the whole process had to stop so that Brussels could run the show. Brussels then rejected vaccines as being too costly. The French lobbied for their vaccine to be used. By the time reality set in, the French vaccine was abandoned and the others were in short supply.

    The EU, having only now ruled that the AZ vaccine is safe, has imposed vindictive demands on AZ and has demanded that its UK factories are to be treated as though the belong to the EU. The NI protocol fiasco is inexcusable. Such arrogance is breathtaking.

    I, for one, am extremely glad we are free of this organisation.

  • Stephen Howse 30th Jan '21 - 12:20pm

    The EU behaved absolutely disgracefully yesterday and it’s deeply concerning that at the first hint of trouble the response was to threaten to impose a border in Ireland. Uniting the DUP, Irish government, British government and Sinn Féin is quite the diplomatic achievement.

    The response of our party to this was, at best, tepid. If you want the UK to be a part of the EU over again in future then you need to be prepared to be critical of it when it messes up and to point out why British membership would have improved the situation.

  • @marco

    Yes, I have a response, that is nonsense.

    The EU has been too bureaucratic in responding to this crisis and left them lagging.

    The US population 350 million has invested 9 Billion up front to increase manufacturing capabilities and advance purchases of vaccines
    The UK population 65 Million invested 1.9 Billion to increase production and advance purchases across a wide range of vaccines
    The EU 28 countries population 500 Million spent 1.7 Billion was late to sign contracts, approve vaccines or invest in upscaling manufacturing. It still has not signed with Novavax……

    How is that the UK behaving trumpism?

    Germany does not want to use Oxford Jab for over 65’s. Macron is slamming the effiacy of Oxford Jab, Germany was the ones pushing for bans on exports for vaccines IF the Eu was not meeting its vaccination targets. It seems rather convenient to me that there is a shortage of Pfizer vaccines and they introduce this policy…..I think the argument over the Oxford jab is a smoke screen and it was all about grabbing more supplies of Pfizer and Moderna.

    This is going to be very damaging to the EU’s reputation globally and I would not be surprised to see manufacturers of vaccines looking to move their facilities off EU soil and produce more in other countries. After all, if a company was not able to fulfil its contract obligations to other countries as the EU blocked its shipments, it would damage not only their reputation but also their share prices.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Jan '21 - 12:22pm

    @Barry Lofty
    Do you mean https://inews.co.uk/opinion/eu-uk-vaccine-supply-row-astrazeneca-brexit-849033
    which poinst out that the EU regulator the EMA was hosted by the UK when we were in the EU, that the UK regulator the MHRA did around 1/3 of the EMA contracting work, that the EMA hadn’t had to wean itself off MHRA services etc.?

  • Nonconformistradical@ Yes, I thought it was a pretty good assessment of the situation!!

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '21 - 1:13pm

    @ John Marriott,

    I don’t want to push historical comparisons too far. Nevertheless the Napoleonic example does show the case for the bigger guy always winning isn’t guaranteed. Europe wasn’t united in the early 19th century and it isn’t united now. Anyone who has listened to Germans berate Greeks and Italians for being wastrels and spendthrifts will know what I mean. In retaliation, putting up posters of Angela Merkel comparing her to previous German leaders doesn’t help either.

    The pandemic has helped quieten all that. The austerity inducing rules of the so-called Stability and Growth Pact and Fiscal Compact have been temporarily put on hold. The big test will come next year when there will be big arguments about who is going to pick up the bill for it all. The Germans and Dutch won’t want to do that but they are the only ones with any money. So it will have to be them!

    Then we have our divisions too. Remainer vs Leaver. Scotland vs England etc.

    We’ll just have to see how it all works out.

  • Peter Chambers 30th Jan '21 - 1:49pm

    @Laurence Cox

    Good reference.

    What struck me was that the origins of the UK effort were small high-performance teams of STEM people. The Commission is known to be heavy with lawyers. Plausibly the panic response was an attempt to force an outcome using legal proceedings.
    The bottom line is access to product. One lot started in good time and made a lot of product. The other lot tried to grab the goods after they were produced.

    Happily for HMG they were presented with something they could just put money behind. Few moving parts for them to make decisions on. Their portfolio manager could get a handle on that.

    We are told that the institute with the salaried professionals who were first off the blocks was set up by Lord Mandelson in 1998 with seed funding from GSK. Maintaining onshore talent and production, with a partnership between public, private and independent sectors is something we should have views on. How fortunate it did not have to go through Cabinet Office or be presented using Power Point by management consultants in Number 10 Downing Street. Possibly Cummings could have directed it.

    Now, about that proposal for free higher education for all.

  • Jenny Barnes 30th Jan '21 - 3:17pm

    The origins of WW1 are more complex than suggested in one or two comments above. I would say it was more down to naval competition between an Empire that needed naval supremacy to survive and a country that didn’t… “Dreadnought” is an excellent analysis.

  • Joseph Bourke 30th Jan '21 - 3:45pm

    I am as much a history buff as anyone. The origins of the 1918-19 Spanish flu (which killed more people than the Great War) are still something of a mystery. Some of the allies thought of the epidemic as a biological warfare tool of the Germans. More feasibly, it was thought to have originated in China in a rare genetic shift of the influenza virus. The recombination of its surface proteins created a virus novel to almost everyone and a loss of herd immunity. Recently the virus has been reconstructed from the tissue of a dead soldier and is now being genetically characterized.
    The origins of the current Coronavirus are still undetermined. The Washington Post reported a couple of days ago (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/jan/26/wuhan-lab-theory-coronavirus-outbreak-bolstered-de/) that U.S. intelligence findings recently declassified by the State Department provide fresh evidence for the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic likely began at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s sole high-security laboratory that has links to the country’s military.
    If this was an accidental laboratory leak, the Chinese government has much to answer for in covering up their culpability. Squabbles with neighbours over vaccine supply pail into insignificance in the light of the damage inflicted by biological warfare experiments gone wrong.

  • David Evans 30th Jan '21 - 3:55pm

    Jenny Barnes, Indeed I agree with you. What I did say was “I would advise a lot of Liberals to consider the views of AJP Taylor on one cause of the First World War,” – the key expression being “*one* cause”. There are lots of things that come together to cause something as big as WW1 and dreadnoughts and the perception of naval superiority by one side or other would doubtless have been another.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '21 - 3:56pm

    @Jenny Barnes
    I realise that we may be digressing; but theories abound as to why WW1 happened. Clearly the naval competition between Imperial Germany and the U.K. was a factor; but the one I favour is that the autocracies (Germany, Austria/Hungary, Turkey and Russia) saw war as a way of unifying their peoples and therefore defending the status quo, which was clearly being threatened by the rise of social democracy (Kaiser Wilhelm speaking to his people in August 1914; “I do not recognise (political) parties any more, only Germans”).

    It has also been speculated that Germany, as a rising industrial power already overtaking ourselves; but with geographic limitations, saw the need to engineer a confrontation with Russia as it saw her as a potential rival in a high stakes game as she also started to benefit from industrialisation, with massively advantageous manpower and natural resources to make this possible.

    Also, going to war because of treaty obligations caused a particular dilemma to Asquith’s Liberal Administration, from which it, and Liberalism in general, never properly recovered.

  • @Matt

    The EU’s position is that they have a contract with Astra Zeneca to receive 400 million doses subject to approval. AZ are threatening to renege on their commitment due to vague and dubious “productivity issues” at their Belgian plant.

    If the UK has a “UK first” contract with regard to the AZ vaccine why should the EU not have an EU first contract for the Pfizer vaccine (or the US have an America first contract)

    What the EU threatened to do with regard to the Irish border was wrong but they have backed down and we shouldn’t forget that our own government was prepared to take risks with the NI peace process during the Brexit negotiations.

    The EU takes longer to approve vaccines probably because it adopts a more rigorous process which should provide its citizens with reassurance. The effectiveness of the AZ vaccine is a separate issues but the Robert Koch institute that questioned its effectiveness in older people is a well respected institution.

  • Laurence Cox 30th Jan '21 - 4:19pm

    @Joseph Bourke

    I think you should take with a large pinch of salt anything that appears in the Washington Times. Its Wikipedia entry says this:

    “The Washington Times was founded on May 17, 1982, by Unification movement leader Sun Myung Moon and owned until 2010 by News World Communications, an international media conglomerate founded by Moon. It is currently owned by Operations Holdings, which is a part of the Unification movement.[4][5]

    “Throughout its history, The Washington Times has been known for its conservative political stance,[6][7][8][9] supporting the policies of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.[10][11]

    “The Washington Times has published many columns which reject the scientific consensus on climate change,[12][13][14] on ozone depletion,[15] and on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.[16][17] It has been accused of publishing racist content including conspiracy theories about U.S. President Barack Obama,[18][19] supporting neo-Confederate historical revisionism,[20][21] and promoting Islamophobia.[22] “

  • @Marco

    The contract was published it did indeed carry a best efforts clause.

    It is well known and well publicised and is being criticised by the EU’s own countries that the Commission was to slow to procure vaccines, it has still not concluded contracts with some suppliers…
    They were holing out for cheaper prices and higher liability costs for the manufacturers and awaiting of efficacy results before concluding contracts.
    The UK took on a different approach and decided to place its bets across a range of vaccines and took on a larger share of responsibility for compensation claims. They also invested heavily on scaling up manufacturing sites.

    The information is all out there for everyone to see the lack of investment that the EU did on vaccine procurement and manufacturing compared to the UK, so who is at fault there?

    The rules the EU has imposed has nothing to do with the Oxford Jab, if it were they would have applied the export bans purely to the oxford jab, because if they did have a valid argument, one could argue that this was proportionate.
    However, that is not what the EU has done and has applied this block to exports on ALL vaccines and as I have said, it seems mighty convenient to me that Germany wants more access to Pfizer and Moderna Jabs as it does not want to use Oxford Jabs for its elderly population and it was Germany who was behind calling for this export ban.

    The rules state that if a vaccine supplier wants to export its vaccine a country can look to see if it is meeting its own vaccination timetables and if not the vaccine can be seized and used for EU purposes… It does not take a rocket scientist to see what is going on here and I fail to see how anyone can defend that.

    No country can come to the table late ( unless it is a poor 3rd world country) and allow other countries to invest billions in procurements and infrastructure to scale up manufacturing, sign contracts much later then demand access to the same supplies at the same time as other countries or risk seizing shipments.

    That would be disgraceful of any rich nation to behave in such a way

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Jan '21 - 5:14pm

    “The contract was published it did indeed carry a best efforts clause.”

    Quite – it was published.

    It would be helpful if the UK government stopped hiding behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ and published its contract as well. Especially as we the people are paying for it….

  • I see that the EU has now climbed down on their threats to block the uk Pfizer vaccine that has been ordered and paid for by the UK, this is welcome news.

    I do hope though that no other country is going to have their vaccine seized if they have legally binding agreements that were signed and paid for before the EU.

    Vaccination nationalism is not going to help anyone.

    Every country that is able should be investing in infrastructure to scale up production.

    If companies like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca can produce all the necessary vaccines on their own and can meet the demand, then there is no problem. But if they cannot produce the billions of vaccines needed in time, then they could be paid extra, to grant the IP rights and share the vaccine production with other companies so we scale up production globally.

    I am pleased that the UK is one of the biggest donors to Covax, but it is all well good throwing money at something, we need the factories on a large enough scale to produce it.

    I hope we will be able to put this sorry saga with the EU over the last few days, behind us and lessons are learnt.
    The world is a fragile place as it is right now without adding even more dangers to it

  • @ Matt and NCFR

    The EU were right to back down over Northern Ireland but the issue of their contractual dispute with AZ remains. The best intentions clause was only inserted in case they did not develop a vaccine that was approved by the EMA, but they did so the clause is redundant.

    The investment figures quoted by Matt for the EU are *over and above* what member states spent – a common mistake Brexiteers make is to treat the EU as a country when it isn’t. The Pfizer vaccine is a joint German – US initiative and the German government have invested in vaccine development.

    I agree that vaccine nationalism should be avoided by all parties. It is the latest example of how the world hasn’t responded to Covid as a global community, instead going down the road of border closures etc and ignoring the needs of the developing world.

  • @ David Evans and John Marriott

    I tend towards the Fritz Fischer school of thought on the outbreak of WW1, chaps. John, I’m sure you can translate : ‘Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918’.) as “Germany’s Aims in the First World War”.

    Whether the Asquith Government should have intervened is a matter of debate, but after all the horrors and sufferings, there was a further casualty : The Liberal Party. It was likened by historian Trevor Wilson to an individual who experienced a traumatic accident, ‘a rampant omnibus which mounted the pavement and ran over him’.

    One could add,that after the patient had eventually made a slow, limited and partial recovery some ninety years later, the captain of the ship then steered the ship into an iceberg in 2010……

  • @Marco
    “The best intentions clause was only inserted in case they did not develop a vaccine that was approved by the EMA, but they did so the clause is redundant.”

    So your an expert on contract law now as well as everything else?

    What you’re saying actually makes no sense. Why would AZ have a “best intentions” clause as you put it when it is actually a “best reasonable efforts”
    Under section 5 manufacturing and supply heading
    5.1 Astrazenneca will use best reasonable efforts to manufacture the initial Europe doses within the EU for distribution, and to deliver to the distribution hubs following eu marketing authorisation.

    So that clearly has nothing to do with as you suggest in case the vaccine failed and they did not develop the vaccine and it had everything to do with meeting supply.

    I would have thought it would be a given that they would be giving “best reasonable efforts” to actually invent a working vaccine, it would hardly do the companies reputation or stock prices very good if they were to fail or go about it half baked. It seems rather ridiculous to think otherwise

    At the end of the day, it is up to the EU and AZ to seek arbitration between them, not for the EU to highjack other countries legally purchased orders.

    You can carry on defending the EU as much as you like, but even its own EU Parliamentarians and the media are criticising them for the complete shambles it has created over their procurement of vaccines and the slowness of the machine.

  • @marco


    I cannot bother to type it all out as I am unable to copy and paste the agreement, but if you care to look under section 12.2 of the contract termination for abandonment
    if the vaccine fails. There is no mention of the “best reasonable efforts” clause

    Therefore, as I have said in above post, that clause was purely about meeting the supply and delivery, hence the reason it is mentioned under that heading of the contract.

    I am no lawyer, but even my simple little brain can work that one out lol

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Jan '21 - 12:23am

    Good point Laurence. I made the mistake of mixing up the Washington Times with the Washington Post there.

  • @Marco – “The EU takes longer to approve vaccines probably because it adopts a more rigorous process which should provide its citizens with reassurance. “
    I’m not so sure that really can be said.
    I found the German reasoning for not approving the use of the AZ vaccine for people over 65 interesting. The Germans were refusing to sanction its use not because it was dangerous to the over 65’s but because there was insufficient evidence that it was efficacious for the over 65’s. Compared to the UK approach which reasoned that because it did work with those over 65 who were in the trials and that there was no evidence that it was disproportionately dangerous to the over 65’s then on balance there were benefits in the over 65’s receiving it.

    Additionally, we should remember that the UK got involved with the trials to the extent that they were evaluating data as it arrived rather than at the end of the trials, meaning the final go/no-go decision could be made relatively quickly after receiving the final data sets.

    As for all the stuff about the EU-AZ contract, I suspect you’re reading the redacted version not the unredacted version.
    I expect the UK-AZ contract also contains “reasonable efforts” clauses, in part because they are dealing with something both very new and also trying to rapidly scale what is effectively a brewing process beyond anything attempted before. Remember before CoViD, producing 100M doses per annum was large scale production, with CoViD they are attempting to produce 100+M doses per month. But as we know there are circa 7.5B people in need of vaccination…

    So what we really have is some political idiot feeling the heat for their incompetence and seeking to deflect blame on to someone else, fortunately, their own department messed up and we have the full unredacted contract in the public domain.

  • I am flattered that my article received such an overwhelming response, but a bit disappointed that the responses focused almost entirely on the spat between the UK and EU and the EU and Astra Zeneca. Yes, that would appear to have the most direct impact on people in the UK, but what happens elsewhere in the world, and the way in which non-Western government are handling and using vaccine nationalism also have a huge impact on our well-being. This impact appears to be largely ignored by Lib Dem readers. The fact is that the virus cares nothing about politics or national borders. Its only concern is in survival. To do that it will continue to mutate and travel around the world in search of hosts. This is a global problem which requires a global solution.

  • Tom Arms – yes you are correct about the developing world and the WHO were right to say that developed countries should stop vaccinating when they have vaccinated their vulnerable populations so that lower income countries can catch up.

    Matt “So your an expert on contract law now as well as everything else?” No just a person with an opinion like you. I defend the EU as this is the discussion group for the most pro EU party.

  • “5.1 Astrazenneca will use best reasonable efforts to manufacture the initial Europe doses within the EU for distribution, and to deliver to the distribution hubs following eu marketing authorisation.“

    Full paragraph is:

    “AstraZeneca shall use its Best Reasonable Efforts to manufacture the vaccine at manufacturing sites located within the EU (which for the purpose of this Section 5.4 only shall include the United Kingdom),” the contract says in a section on manufacturing sites.

  • @Marco

    Yes it is a “best reasonable efforts” to supply and deliver and has absolutely nothing to do with what you were arguing for earlier “That was inserted in case they did not succeed in developing the vaccine and getting it approved, in which case the contract would have been frustrated. However, the European Medicines Agency have approved the vaccine so the production issues do not engage with the best intentions clause which does not apply to this scenario.”

    The best reasonable efforts clause which “might” include uk sites ( that is open to legal arguments that neither you or I are qualified to make) does not mean it gives the EU automatic rights to something. The contract also allows AZ to use non-EU plants and resources to supply the EU with written notification of intent in order to meet it’s best reasonable efforts in supply.

    I will still maintain that this was nothing about the AZ vaccine, and this was being used as a smoke screen and it was all about Germany not wanting to use Oxford to vaccinate its over 65’s, it therefore needed more access to Pfizer in order to vaccinate its elderly population an d the only way that they could do that would be to implement vaccine export bans.

    There are far to many coincidences in a week for it not to be true, Complain about shortages > knock the efficacy of Oxford and refuse to use it in over 65’s > Push the EU in to adopting laws that allow the EU to block exports of vaccine IF the EU is not receiving its continuous supply if vaccine to meet its targets.

  • Helen Dudden 1st Feb '21 - 6:44am

    Tom Arms. I did point out, that I would have thought a global program would have benefited many.
    The attitude of Gove, we got it right, the EUROPEAN Union got it wrong, was in my view narrow minded. My grandson lives in Madrid and he explained how unhappy things are. Not just because he is my grandchild, but understanding when our membership suited us things we a little different.
    WHO are correct in this instance, if the government is not willing to work with other countries on control of the virus, then I feel it to be unhelpful.

  • @Marco

    Further insight into the contract
    5.1 is about delivery timescales and nothing more. Here, AstraZeneca is to use its ‘best effort’ to produce vaccine within the EU for delivery in certain quantities by certain dates – these precise details are redacted. The reference to the EU in 5.1 absolutely does not include the UK, because the reference to the UK in 5.4 is explicitly limited to the provisions of 5.4, which are to do with where AZ can/cannot produce vaccine without additional permission from the EU.

    So the reference to the UK in section 5..4 is that AZ does not need to seek permission from the EU in order to provide doses from the UK, it does however have to get written authorisation to provide vaccines from any other country

    This is actually all rather redundant anyway because If you go to page 40 Schedule
    It contains and “estimated delivery schedule.
    The Final Delivery subject to agreement of delivery schedule and regulatory approval.

    ursula von der leyen needs to be apologising for misleading the public and the EU and that is why so many in the European Parliament are angry at the commission for this failed contract and she is being racked over the coals by European Media

  • @Matt

    The issue is, what happens if AZ are having production difficulties. They cannot reduce supply to the EU whilst maintaining supply to the UK. To do so is a breach of contract and a breach of the UK-EU FTA.

    The EU’s position is that the contract does it stipulate that the EU destined vaccines have to be produced within the EU, they can be produced in the UK as per section 5.4.

    And yes final delivery subject to regulatory approval but they now have this.

    The EU contends that the contract gives precise delivery quantities and you have confirmed that they are correct. Thanks.

    Looks like AZ and UK are backing down a bit now anyway.

  • *does not not does it

  • @Marco

    The point is section 5.1 stipulates that The “initial doses” will be manufactured within the EU (this does not include UK manufacturing sites) for the UK sites to have been included this would have to have been stipulated in section 5.1 (That is AstraZeneca argument at least)

    That is why the uk is not mentioned in points 5.1 to 5.3

    The UK only then becomes relevant from 5.4 and only 5.4 as stipulated IN REGARDS TO ADDITONAL DOSES and that is that AZ may use sites in Europe & UK ( without seeking authorisation) But if they then need to use any other sites in order to meet their order they have to seek prior approval. (5.4 does not in anyway oblige AZ to use uk sites, only that it can do so without permission)

    The argument is that the contract stipulates that the initial doses would come from only those Factories on the continent

    “The EU contends that the contract gives precise delivery quantities and you have confirmed that they are correct. Thanks.”

    No it does not as I told you, look at page 40 The quantities ordered are irrelevant as the final delivery times were still “SUBJECT TO AN AGREEMENT” of a delivery schedule upon regulatory approval. It only got regulatory approval on Friday and so the delivery schedule had yet not been agreed and finalised

    Just because the EU then gave regulatory approval does not mean they automatically had a delivery schedule ( that part had not yet been agreed)

  • @ Matt

    That is an accurate summary of Astra Zeneca’s position.

    However different lawyers have conflicting points of view on the issue.

    “Richard Parkinson – a commercial contracts partner at JMW solicitors – said he interpreted the contract as requiring the firm to supply the 300m doses from manufacturing plants including those in the UK.
    “If it has produced those doses, it would appear that it would have to supply them, as its efforts to date have resulted in the creation of that volume of vaccine.”

    “There doesn’t appear to be anything in the contract stating that the UK’s orders take priority. Therefore, AstraZeneca appears to be in a position whereby it has two customers who each seemingly have a valid claim on the doses that have been manufactured.”


    And AZ have now agreed to increase supplies with a further 9m by March.

  • @Marco
    And yet in the words of UVDL herself
    ““Our contract with AstraZeneca is clear … nothing prevents the company from delivering us doses produced in the United Kingdom, as stipulated in the contract”

    They keyword here is “prevents” it does not contain the word “commits” And as I have been saying all along, the purpose of 5.4 ONLY in regards to the UK was that AZ did not need to seek prior approval for the use of UK factories, only other factories outside the EU.

    I see Ursula is now attempting to throw her deputy under the bus for this fiasco and even accuses the UK as compromising on safety on rollout of the vaccine. She is still trying to shift attention from herself for the commissions failure.

    None of this changes the fact that the EU was not signing contracts until AFTER efficacy results were reported. They waited for Pfizer and Moderna to report final results before signing contracts and they have still not concluded contracts with Novavax.

    The UK took a different approach and signed contracts BEFORE the results of vaccine trials were known (Apart from Moderna)

    Its about time Ursula started taking some responsibility herself instead of trying to throw others under the bus for her incompetence’s

  • @ Matt

    The Commissions stance is that the contract commits to providing the doses and nothing prevents the doses from coming from the UK.

    You said previously that neither of us were qualified to comment, so it seems you have completed your qualifications in record time!

  • John Senior 2nd Feb '21 - 6:20pm

    It looks like the EU have come to their senses and decided against the institutional theft of vaccine.


  • @Marco

    “The Commissions stance is that the contract commits to providing the doses and nothing prevents the doses from coming from the UK.”

    That was the commissions early stance UNTIL the contract was released, they soon changed their stance since when it was pointed out that they were indeed incorrect, hence the reason the change in tone from Ursula to “prevents” from “commits”

    “You said previously that neither of us were qualified to comment, so it seems you have completed your qualifications in record time!”
    No i’m not and no I have not, but I am capable of reading and research from those with learned opinions who are experts on the subject. And besides, your just so enjoyable to disagree with. What can I say it’s a character flaw lol.

    As far as I am concerned the Brexit argument is over and done with and has been put to bed, I cannot see the UK ever re-joining and the EU presidents actions last week would have cemented that for sure among “soft brexiteers”

    I have no interest in dragging up old Brexit Arguments, but I will speak out about the EU commission when they makes errors like this which puts untold people at risk ( I have friends and family living in the EU as well) and they were potentially going to risk the global effort to defeat covid.
    When you get something wrong, you should have the decency to admit that you’re wrong and take responsibility.
    You do not throw others under the bus for your mistake and try to deflect blame on to others.

    And the Presidents and PM’s of the EU should tone down their unfounded arguments about the efficacy of AZ vaccine which is totally unfounded.
    We have enough problems now with anti-vaxers ( Especially in Europe) and they should be encouraging their citizens to get vaccinated, not be casting further doubts, they need to curb their language used. How is what they have been saying and doing helping the global fight against covid?
    As we both agree, in order to have any hope of beating covid and returning life to as close to normal as soon as possible, we need to get as many jabs as possible in arms across the world and that requires leaders to act and talk responsibly 🙂

  • Marco 2nd Feb ’21 – 5:51pm
    You said previously that neither of us were qualified to comment…

    Here’s someone who is qualified to comment…

    ‘Treat AstraZeneca’s UK Covid vaccine factories as though they are part of EU, Brussels says’ [29th. January 2021]:

    Martin Howe QC, an expert on EU law and pharmaceuticals, said: “I don’t think it can be possibly interpreted as AstraZeneca being required to divert production from an existing supply chain which was paid for and set up under an earlier in time contract.

    “I find it almost inconceivable that a sophisticated international drugs company like AstraZeneca could behave in a way that it would enter into two inconsistent contracts.”

  • Matthew and Jeffrey – I think paragraph 8.3 is the key one.

    Can see why President Von der Layen thinks it is crystal clear.

  • @Marco – You seem to be desperately grabbing at straws to try and justify the EU is in the right and that AZ is somehow in the wrong.

    From comparing the unredacted document and the redacted document, it becomes clear that there is much that the EU is desiring to hide from public view and scrutiny… I suggest the redacted text in paragraph 8.3 for example, is there to hide the fact that the EU failed to deliver the relevant schedules (which form part of the contract and which the EU did not release) within the specified contractual timescales…

    Von der Layen will think it is crystal clear because all she will have read will have been the one page summary prepared for her by her advisors. Even now I doubt she will have actually read the contract – that’s for underlings…

  • @Roland

    Do you actually have the unredacted part of 8.3 or are you just asserting that the missing bits would miraculously support your position if only we could read them?

  • John Peters 3rd Feb '21 - 5:42pm
  • @Marco

    If you download the document to PDF and enable the bookmarks (which the EU forgot to disable)
    You can see parts of the redacted information.

    In the case that Roland is referring to the redacted part is No later than “30 days.”

    Whether TH EU failed to meet that deadline, who know’s, but then the question would be, why was it felt necessary for the EU to redact that information

  • @Marco – I find it noteworthy that you ask, I had assumed that you also had access to an unredacted version.
    You will need to do a Google search for a copy as the EU replaced their version with one derived from a scan of a printed version of the contract – so no bookmarks…
    To read the unredacted bookmarks you will need to have installed Adobe Reader or similar PDF reader – not all readers are capable of reading and displaying the bookmarks.

    Depending on which articles you read, you may need to do a further Google search to find the pricing information.

    @matt – spot on, some of the redacts raise questions as to why they were redacted.

  • @ Roland

    Perhaps you could just share with us the information that you claim proves you to be correct namely:

    “ I suggest the redacted text in paragraph 8.3 for example, is there to hide the fact that the EU failed to deliver the relevant schedules” 3rd Feb 2021 1:45pm

  • John Peters 3rd Feb '21 - 10:34pm


    It seems a reasonable assumption. Why do you think the EU redacted the mention of 30 days?

    “(a) No later than thirty (30) working days following the Effective Date, the Commission shall deliver to AstraZeneca a final and binding written allocation of Initial Europe Doses between the Participating Member States (the “Binding Allocation”), wh…”

  • @ John Peters

    It was represented by Roland as a “fact” not an “assumption” that the EU did not provide binding allocations in time.

    However binding allocations refers to the allocation of doses among individual member states. The only implication of the doses not being provided would be that they would be pro-rated based on member states populations. So it is a technical point really.

    The key point from paragraph 8.3 is that 300 million doses were agreed. That part is crystal clear.

  • @Marco – The key point from paragraph 8.3 is that 300 million doses were agreed. That part is crystal clear.
    It is also crystal clear that the delivery schedule and allocate weren’t agreed and were subject to separate submissions and change. Comparing the dates in the contract with real-world events (the benefit of hindsight) and further questions arise which indicate that the failed to adhere to their side of the agreement.

    Why do you think the EU redacted the “30 Days” reference if they had been in full compliance with the agreement?
    To me, there seems to be only one reason, the EU failed to meet the conditions.
    Contractually, this isn’t itself isn’t a problem as there is most probably an exchange of letters agreeing to some variation (and I expect there are other similar variations). However, leaving the dates in could lead to questions resulting in it becoming clear that the contract was just the starting point for a still on-going, flexible relationship – which would undermine the EU’s hardline stance. Remember the current politicians in the EU are under pressure and to save themselves they needed a scapegoat…

    Years back when working in Sales, I often saw Sales managers take a salespersons forecast and treating the numbers as confirmed revenue in their reports to senior management. Naturally, when the forecasted sale didn’t materialise (weren’t invited to bid, failed to win, contract signed a month or so later than forecasted, signed for a lesser amount etc.), the Salesperson got it in the neck…

  • Peter Martin 4th Feb '21 - 12:30pm

    @ Tom Arms,

    “This (Covid) is a global problem which requires a global solution.”

    Sure, but this doesn’t mean National governments should stand aside and leave the solution to the EU or even the WHO. National governments in the western world are accountable to their electors in a way that others aren’t.

    Once common diseases of the last century, such as Smallpox, Polio, Measles and Diphtheria have been defeated, or least kept well under control, because the National governments of wealthier countries have firstly taken the initiative to combat these infections within their own borders. Some might say this was for selfish reasons. Perhaps. Nevertheless it is only National governments which have the political and financial clout to fund effective eradication programs. It cannot be left to what might be termed the ‘global community’. However, expertise can be shared out as progress is made.

    Neither can it be left to the private sector. Capitalism need diseases to continue to generate demand for supplied pharmaceuticals. There’s now no money to be made for a cure for Smallpox for example. But there’s potentially lots to be made from effective anti-cancer drugs.

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