Re: "The timing is also unfortunate for the company ...
Everything you say is true (that AZ was risky, that risk was v low and accepted, it saved huge numbers of lives, but when something of even lower risk comes along of course you take it).
But your conclusion is false: “ vaccination as a political benefit of brexit”. Vaccination *was* a political benefit of Brexit. Brexit *directly* saved a couple hundred thousand lives in the U.K., for several reasons you have already partly outlined.
#1 The disparity between U.K. and EU rollout of AZ and BioNTech was neither random dice, nor political football. With AZ vaccine, the U.K. government went into the initial negotiation (remember six months before anyone knew if it might work or not) with the brief “this might save U.K. lives, as elected politicians we must not be held responsible for the smallest delay of getting this to our citizens, this deal must be done, now, whatever the cost. Pay for expanded capacity if needed”. The EU negotiator went into the negotiation with the brief “ensure you get a good financial deal for EU citizens. And ensure that any expanded capacity is on EU sovereign soil.”
The consequences were *exactly* as one would expect: Commission arguing over the price delayed EU signing by three months…..and therefore delayed EU access to final vaccine capacity by three months. How could it be reasonable otherwise? The point is, no *elected* politician could possibly have prioritised cost over speed at barely 20 euros per person. This isn’t about being British, Macron would not have done this, nor would Merkel, nor any other country Prime Minister. No directly elected government would ever have made such a catastrophic error of judgement.
#2 Commission insisted on factory on Belgian soil. AZ doesn’t *have* such a factory, and still doesn’t. AZ did a tech transfer to Belgian company, with full support, at EU only request This is not the best engineering solution. *Of course* standing up a new non-vaccine factory to make vaccines with inexperienced staff, was going to take an extra four months. Four months delay is blisteringly fast actually. It’s a tribute to all the people directly responsible that it happened. But that four months delay was there *because the EU negotiator asked for it*, and no other reason. The EU *could* have agreed to simply double funding at the existing U.K. plants, in September 2020, as AZ had suggested, but the EU refused that.
This was a catastrophic error of judgement. Do you honestly think Merkel would have done this? “Build it on EU soil, or we won’t buy your life-saving vaccine”? It’s mental. Totally mental. Only a career bureaucrat could think that was a hill worth dying on.
#3 When the delay at AZ Belgian subcontractor became apparent, AZ proposed a valid solution. They proposed to ship vaccines from their *Indian* subcontractor. EU simply refused to accept vaccines made at the India plant. It’s difficult to see this as anything other than pure racism. The Commission literally wrote, in black and white, that they couldn’t accept vaccines from a plant that they hadn’t assessed the cleanliness of. Despite the facts that: a) India is actually the largest producer of vaccines in the world and has a lot of experience b) The EU did *not* inspect either the Belgium plant, nor the U.K. plant they said they wanted it from c) The EU has no technical competence in medicines manufacture inspection. This was pure racism, and cost a lot of European lives by delay. We can debate the ethics as to whether they should have wanted to take vaccines away from Indian people anyway, but that wasn’t their declared reason. The declared reason was that Indians were unhygienic. You cannot get away from that fact.
#4 The European Medicines Agency took the “precautionary principle”. This added another two month delay to the EU rollout. This is a very European *attitude*. It’s embedded throughout European culture, which is fundamentally bureaucratic. And sometimes it’s valid and good. This was not such a time. Brexit gave the U.K. the freedom to decide when the lives of our citizens were worth more than an arse-covering precautionary principle, and *we took it*.
The net-out of the European Commissions failings was *over half a million European extra dead*. Compared to well under a hundred UK dead due to cardiovascular issues in the under-thirties. The U.K. government has its own failings, relating to care homes and PPE that cost our extra hundred thousand dead, we cannot hide from that. But the Commission directly caused a vaccine catastrophe in EU that cannot be hidden.