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Mind the gap — rift widens between UK and EU

Germany bans AstraZeneca vaccine for people older than 65

By Ricky Browne

The UK and the EU might have made a last minute trade deal just before New Year’s, but that doesn’t mean that relations are now great.

Worries and suspicions persist.

The EU flag flies

In the UK there is concern that Scotland will try to seek independence once more, breaking up the union that has existed for more than 300 years.

Well, some people on both sides of the border may say they’d be quite happy for Scotland to exit, but its likely that more people outside of Scotland want to see the country break away.

Which way does the wind blow?

Over in Europe, many might be pleased at the idea of Scotland breaking away from the UK, and perhaps joining the EU. But that is unlikely to happen, even if Scotland does gain independence, because Spain is unlikely to allow it. That is because Spain does not want to give its own separatist movement(s) the idea that they can break away from Spain and then join the EU like nothing happened.

UK and EU flags outside the British parliament

Meanwhile, the EU may be concerned that it has a competitor right on its doorstep – one who can move much faster, thanks to not having to consult with 27 different states before making a decision.

So the end result is a bit of tension.

HAM FISTED

Getting to the meat of the matter

That tension was made clear early in January when lorry drivers and other drivers from the United Kingdom have their ham sandwiches confiscated in the Netherlands. “Welcome to the Brexit, sir,” said the  border official at the Hook of Holland as he took control of the sandwiches on January 6.

EU Ambassador João Vale de Almeida

Then later, in a perhaps unrelated move, the UK decides that EU ambassador João Vale de Almeida can’t have the same privileges as the envoys from sovereign nations – downgrading him to being just a representative of an international organisation.  

EU representatives are given full diplomatic status in the 143 other countries that they are in.

UK Ambassador Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby

So then the EU retaliated on Thursday, by delaying its first high-level meeting with the UK’s ambassador Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, and the UK’s former ambassador to Colombia.

EU’s head of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell

“We expect the United Kingdom to treat the European Union delegation accordingly and without delay,” said the EU’s head of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell.

VACCINE WOES

Meanwhile, as the Covid-19 pandemic rages across the planet, a new row is developing over vaccines.

The UK has so far vaccinated more than 7.5 million people, representing about 11 percent of the population. It has vaccinated more people than any country other than the United States, and its vaccination rate is third in the world, behind Israel and the UAE.

EU countries are lagging. Germany has only vaccinated two million people – and it’s the best performing in the EU. Denmark has vaccinated less people, but has a higher rate of vaccination – having vaccinated 3.7 percent of its population, compared to Germany’s 2.4 percent.

While some in the UK are celebrating that this quick vaccine rollout is one of the benefits of Brexit – the EU is feeling frustrated that it can’t get its act together any faster.

That frustration is now being taken out on AstraZeneca – the largely British company – which is selling  its Covid-19 vaccine at cost, rather than adding an attractive mark-up like its American competitors.

The UK got in line early to buy the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is produced in both the UK and Europe – pre-ordering millions of shots from the producer. The EU, because of its slower decision making process, it would seem, did not make its orders until well after the UK – even though it contributed billions of dollars to the creation of the vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is under the microscope

Weeks after the UK approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, the EU had still not approved it – and wasn’t expected to until at least Friday, January 29.

In a move to increase its production, AstraZeneca – and Pfizer – have been seeking to make changes to their production lines. That has meant a decrease in production in the short-term.

THUMBS DOWN

Europe, and Germany in particular, is very upset over this turn of events – and has started to issue threats to AstraZeneca that it may prevent them from exporting the vaccines to third (non-EU) countries. This primarily means the UK.

And then in breaking news on Thursday afternoon, it was reported that German authorities are not approving the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over the age of 65.

The story had been rumoured for a couple days prior to that. But its confirmation now is likely to bring into question the confidence that people had for the British-based vaccine.

Reports had previously said that the Germans found the AstraZeneca vaccine to have an efficacy rate of less than 10 percent.  But the real problem might not be the efficacy rate, but rather the data on its effectiveness – where the number of people tested over the age of 65 was too low.

All boxed up

On Thursday it was reported that the German health ministry said “There are currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age.”

Meanwhile the European Medicines Agency will be making its decision on the vaccine on Friday.

What will happen if the EU acts on its threat – and prevents vaccine producers inside the EU from exporting to the UK? Vaccines which have already been ordered and paid for?

Watch this gap. Things are moving quickly.

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