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Europe's Vaccine Programs Are about as Successful as Their Lockdowns

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Tags Health

03/30/2021

For many months, the governments of the European Union have made it clear they view the distribution and administration of covid-19 vaccines as a public policy priority. Whatever one may think of the vaccines, the fact remains Europe’s regimes think they’re fantastic and want as many jabs in arms taking place as soon as possible.

By their own standards, however, these governments’ efforts at maximizing use of the regime aren’t going very well. Indeed, the EU’s rollout of the vaccine is now routinely called “disastrous.”

Total vaccine doses administered in the EU remain well behind those of Israel, the US, the UK, and even Chile. Meanwhile, member countries are arguing over controls on export vaccines, and other members are complaining they’re not getting enough doses.

At the heart of the controversy is the fact that the European Union overall has administered only 15 doses per 100 people. In the UK, on the other hand, the total is 50 doses per 100 people. In the United States, it’s 43 per 100. And the situation is not exactly improving, as “E.U. countries are still lagging, administering vaccines less than half as rapidly as” state governments in the United States.

Moreover, this has been the case for months. In spite of claims that the Trump administration was an obstacle to vaccine distribution, the US was already well ahead of the EU by early January. On January 13, for example, the US had administered more than 3 doses per 100 people, while the EU had administered less than 1.

A Failed Plan

Why the large differences in total doses? Much of it is due to the fact the European Union member states allowed Brussels to coordinate and plan the EU’s vaccine effort. This means an added layer of government planning and multiple rounds of negotiation with vaccine providers, made worse by endless hand-wringing over whether or not vaccines would be distributed in an egalitarian fashion. It is evident that EU politicians badly want to maximize the number of Europeans who have received vaccine doses. Yet the result of their big plan has been a vaccine rollout that is slow, haphazard, and is now being met with calls to restrict exports so that the EU can hoard any doses that can be found within its borders.

Increasingly in the EU, everything has to be preplanned by the Brussels regime, and everything must be vetted to make sure it checks all the boxes in terms of what helps increase the Brussels regime’s political strength.

For example, as Wolfgang Münchau points out, the vaccine distribution program was first and foremost a political program of the EU’s central bureaucracy:

So why did EU governments shift responsibility for vaccination procurement to the EU in the first place? Angela Merkel reasoned that it would have strained EU cohesion if Germany had procured privileged supplies of the BioNTech vaccine. What she did not consider is that the EU is ill-equipped for this task. To this day, the EU's DNA is that of a producers' cartel. Its priority is not to secure supplies, but reduce costs and achieve some balance between French and German interests. Triangulation is what Brussels does for a living.

The end plan was for the EU to obtain the vaccine doses and then distribute based on population. But several EU member states allege that isn’t happening.

At least four EU member countries have now done an end run around the Brussels government and signed up to obtain vaccine doses from Russia as the EU plan falters due to doubts over the AstraZeneca vaccine's safety. Austria is also reportedly in talks with Russia.

It looks like using vaccine policy to ensure harmony and unity among all EU members hasn’t been a stunning success. Indeed, the experience is mostly a helpful reminder that regimes are political institutions that primarily concern themselves with political problems. Although the Brussels regime may have declared that vaccine procurement is a priority, the real priority is Brussels's political class. 

Nor can this be blamed on "vaccine hesitancy" in Europe. Survey data suggests not only that Americans are less interested in the vaccine than Europeans, but that American resistance is actually growing in recent months. The opposite is happening in Europe. 

Back to Lockdowns

Now, with European opposition to lockdowns and business closures always having been weak and inconsistent, Europe's regimes are using the anemic vaccine program as an excuse to keep talking about yet another round of lockdowns. This is the case in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland. 

Apparently, France and Italy are willing to double down on a strategy that has clearly done little or nothing to improve outcomes. 

[Read More: "Yet Another Study Shows—Yet Again—That Lockdowns Don't Work" by Ryan McMaken]

Although "public health" experts have long claimed countries with lockdowns would deliver far better outcomes than countries without lockdowns, the actual outcomes paint a far different picture. The countries with some of the strictest lockdown measures—i.e., Spain, Italy, and the UK—have outcomes comparable with, or worse than, Sweden, which never had anything more than very weak mandatory lockdown measures. Covid outcomes are also mostly unimpressive when compared to the US, which has always had extremely haphazard lockdown measures. (In the US, the states with the strictest lockdowns also tend to have the worst outcomes.)

Moreover, in spite of the fact that these same experts claimed a failure to lock down would bring even greater economic devastation in the medium term, this has never happened. Rather, as expected, the US with its relatively open economy is recovering more quickly than Europe from 2020's lockdown-induced economic destruction. 

Author:

Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power&Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado and was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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