Is the EU’s vaccine cock-up a blessing in disguise for Dublin?

Another glorious victory for the European Union, was the subtext of Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen’s tweet yesterday claiming that the EU had secured an extra nine million vaccines from AstraZenica for the first quarter of this year. The announcement came, of course, just a few days after the EU had to engage in a humiliating climbdown after it sought to block the export of vaccines to the UK. Here’s Von der Leyen, declaring victory, and hoping to move on:

The problem is that the EU’s week of negotiating didn’t, actually, secure nine million more vaccines. It was much more like…. One million more vaccines:

The EU official directly involved in the talks said AstraZeneca offered earlier this week to increase deliveries to possibly 39 million doses in the first quarter, but that was deemed inadequate. The size of the AstraZeneca’s offer has not previously been reported.

Under a contract agreed in August, the company should have supplied at least 80 million doses to the EU in that period, the official said, and possibly even 120 million “depending on how you read the contract”.

A second EU official said in a media briefing on Wednesday that the company had proposed to supply a quarter of the agreed volume of doses through March, which in the contract amounted to a “three-digit” figure – consistent with nearly 40 million out of a total of 120 million mentioned by the first source.

In other words, the EU originally thought it was getting between 80 and 120 million vaccines. About ten days ago, Astrazenica told them “sorry, we can only actually supply about 31million doses”.

After an initial EU protest, that became 39million doses.

That was still not satisfactory, so that’s when somebody in Brussels did a Father Dougal Maguire, and pushed the big red button to close the trade borders with Britain. That, of course, backfired spectacularly.

So after the EU had to retreat, tail firmly between legs, the whole stunt convinced AstraZenica to up its offer by…. One million doses. If you add the eight they’d already agreed – with minimal pressure – to deliver, then you get the nine that Von der Leyen mentions. But they’d already secured eight million of those last week, according to the EU officials talking to reuters above.

In other words, it’s spin.

And that’s not where it ends. Look at this, this morning:

The EU is simply announcing, and re-announcing, vaccine deals it already has in place, in order to make it seem like it is making progress.

In any case, does it matter? Do we really believe that, for example, if the Irish Government had all the vaccines it required tomorrow, that the country is even ready to begin a mass vaccination programme? Take note of this, for example:

We’re only a month or so away from the period when older people were supposed to be enrolled in a mass vaccination programme, but so far as we can tell, GPs and medical practitioners know about as much as you or I do about how exactly that programme will be rolled out. Logically, older people should be the easiest to reach – most of them will be on file with a local GP, who’s aware of their age, medical background, and contact details. That’s not necessarily true of younger people, many of whom may be living away from home, and not be registered with a GP for the simple reason that they’re pretty healthy.

You would think, though, that the key elements of the vaccine programme would be being detailed to GPs and other key stakeholders, as we speak. It’s not happening, that we know of.

Bear in mind that to vaccinate every man, woman, and child in Ireland before the end of the year, we would have to vaccinate an average – average – fourteen thousand people per day. If we want to do it by June 2022, then we need to vaccinate nine thousand people per day. That is a truly enormous logistical operation. People will have to put into tiers, contacted, given appointments, and the vaccines will have to be shipped in sufficient numbers, at the right time, to the right places.

At the moment, there does not seem to be any such plan in place.

So maybe, then, the EU’s catastrophic failure on vaccines is actually a political blessing in disguise for the Irish Government. After all, if they had all the vaccines they needed tomorrow, it is highly debatable whether they could competently administer them. Not having them is a problem, but it’s a problem for which Brussels can conveniently take the blame.

When the vaccines do actually show up, our fellas will have to show that they can competently organise the largest logistical operation in the modern history of the state. And there’s no evidence, thus far, to suggest they are ready.

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