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Learning from a Pandemic

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 01:14:00 AM EST

The Irish Times: EU and vaccination

A chara,- A sub-committee of the European Commission makes a rushed decision in the middle of a crisis to try and ensure that vaccines are not being exported out of the EU in breach of the pharmaceutical companies' contractual commitments to its own vaccination programme.

When the serious implications of one aspect of the proposal are pointed out to it, it admits its mistake, and changes the decision. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, takes full responsibility for the mistake and commits to ensuring it doesn't happen again. What more can we expect of our leaders? If only it were always so.

Healthcare provision is generally a national competency within the EU, and this is the first time the commission has taken the lead role in EU-wide vaccine procurement. In doing so it has helped us to avoid the kind of toxic vaccine nationalism which has broken out between the UK and the EU also breaking out between member states of the EU.

If that had happened, you can be sure that Ireland, as a smaller member state without our own vaccine manufacturing capability, would have been paying top-dollar prices at the back of the queue.

We have all learned a lot about managing a pandemic, and still have a lot to learn. Making mistakes is part of that process. It's how you recover from a mistake that matters. - Yours, etc,

The UK media has gone into a feeding frenzy having finally found something to crow about. The Johnson regime has managed to out-perform the EU in its vaccine roll-out programme and now, finally, after years of out manoeuvring the UK in the Brexit negotiations, the EU Commission has made a very specific and obvious mistake. Never mind that Boris Johnson, too, was threatening to invoke Article 16 of the Ireland and N. Ireland Protocol in the House of Commons only two weeks ago.

Brexiteers and nationalists of every hue are calling on Ursula Van Der Leyen to resign, and the media are doing their usual routine of who knew what when and why they didn't do anything to stop it. But the Article 16 fiasco is but a minor footnote in the pandemic management process as a whole, and at least it was speedily corrected. Of more lasting significance is that it has led to even sympathetic observers questioning the competence of the commission as a whole. So what went wrong?

Part of the problem is the nature of the Commission itself. By and large it is concerned with the arcane details of trade, internal market regulation, regional funds, agricultural policy, competition policy etc. Typically it moves at a glacial pace, as a consensus of 27 member states is required to action anything, and it can be years before a proposal actually becomes law.

Now, for the first time, it has been thrust into the centre of a raging pandemic and given an operational role in managing a Crisis. This came about largely because member states didn't want a repeat of the free-for-all that developed over PPE and testing reagent which had member states literally stealing supplies and contracts from each other. In any case, the Commission was only mandated to lead the vaccine procurement process last June, and had to deal with ongoing suspicions in some member states that it was favouring and throwing money at other member states with large Pharmaceutical companies.

But the whole commission culture simply isn't suited for this kind of operational fire-fighting role. They are expert at teasing out the finer points of competition law, less so in actually negotiating contracts with potential suppliers whose products hadn't even been tested extensively at the time and where nowhere hear formal approval yet. In prioritising the issues of price, liability, and pre-ordering a wide selection of potential vaccines, the Commission probably took a prudent course, but it was also a course that led to much more difficult negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies, and delayed agreements by several weeks or months.

The Johnson Government, meanwhile, has become notorious for handing out lucrative contracts, willy nilly, to private interests, mostly Tory party donors and friends, many of whom never had any substantial experience of delivering the services or products being contracted for. But in this case they got lucky, and two of the companies they bet heavily on, Pfizer and AstraZeneca came good with approved products before anyone else, (albeit less good with their production planning, in the case of AstraZeneca).

So the moral of the story is that sometimes, perhaps rarely, and particularly in a crisis, it can pay to throw caution and legal niceties to the wind and take a punt on a few companies. Well done UK, you got lucky. The EU needs to learn learn from this debacle and develop more operational capabilities if it is to take on such crisis management roles in the future.

I would favour the establishment of a separate pharmaceutical procurement agency (EPPA) to complement the European Medicines Agency (which approves drugs) and which, on the EU wide basis, would negotiate the prices of key medical equipment and medicines directly with Pharmaceutical companies on an ongoing basis.

Irish drug costs are among the highest in the world because we have so little bargaining leverage with global pharmaceutical companies and they charge us huge prices for any new and vital drug that comes on the market. Politicians then come under pressure to pay these inflated prices because otherwise the best treatments are not available to seriously ill patients.

But if the EU were to negotiate as one block, it, as the largest drug market in the world would have much better negotiating leverage. Prices in Spain are already about a third of those in Ireland. The Pharmaceutical Procurement Agency could also ensure that the EU has adequate manufacturing capacity for key drugs and equipment within EU, so the US cannot, as happened with PPE, literally commandeer consignments of PP intended for the EU at Chinese airports.

When you are up to your neck in crocodiles, it can be hard to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp. But this is the sort of long term planning and execution that the Commission excels in. Ad hoc, crisis mode improvisation is probably best left to the member states whose governments are more attuned to the day to day concerns of their respective voting publics. Maintaining a core competency of a vibrant pharmaceutical and medical technology industry should be one of the objectives of EU policy. But so should ensuring that citizens have timely and cost effective access to those medicines.

A pandemic doesn't come around very often, and preparing for them can be expensive. But this crisis has shown that we have all got a lot to learn about anticipating and planning for future healthcare emergencies. Having a permanent European Pharmaceutical Procurement Agency in place could improve our responsiveness to such crises, while enabling ongoing efficiencies and economies of scale.

It seems the Commission was not alone in making a mistake:
Unionism to squander opportunity presented by EU blunder
There was so much politicking on Tuesday, a story slipped out in the late afternoon almost unnoticed.

"Military travel issues resolved", reported the BBC.

The ministry of defence had admitted it was all a misunderstanding on its part. The protocol contains an exemption to the military equipment requirement in the EU customs code, so paperwork had never been necessary.

The ministry failed to spot this and instructed its officials to submit declarations. The UK never raised the issue at the implementation committees.

Now both sides were truly as bad as each other. London had been as cavalier as Brussels in handling Northern Ireland with care - impeding its own army was a mistake every bit as extraordinary as the EU blocking medical supplies.

In fairness to the UUP, it had said all along the fault probably lay with UK defence officials. However, the assumption was that they had rolled over to a maximum interpretation of the protocol, rather than simply not reading it.

After the EU triggered article 16, the British government's restraint was widely praised. Might it have been tinged with sheepishness?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 02:05:05 AM EST
where's the laugh emoji?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 01:50:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"... are calling on Ursula Van Der Leyen to reign,"

What a difference a single letter makes :-)

by Oui on Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 08:26:15 AM EST
Although many Brexiteers are also royalists and might prefer if the EU were ruled by a Queen. Mind you, they have a German queen already...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 11:44:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"... more difficult negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies, and delayed agreements by several weeks or months."

The UN and WHO have warned the global community "hoarding" will be to the detriment of all in combatting a pandemic. It has fallen a deaf ears on the many. It has become a political tool. The invisible small "China" virus played a substantial role in the defeat of the former US president running a gambit with family and old friends. His impeachment was long written in the stars.

With the slogans of "America First!" trumpeted by the UK Brexiteers of "Britain First!" was no surprise. Both leaders were strong voices for "herd immunity" and let the epidemic rage. After the initial gross failure in choice between health and the economy, the deaths became an insurmountable burden. Both are leading the world in deaths per capita. An issue of NI protocol or invoking Art. 16 is such a non-issue used to deflect.

I think the blunder made by the EU Commission with leadership of German ex-minister of Defense is just unforgiveable. Haste is no excuse for precise handling of an issue. Handing such a gift to trade foe Boris Johnson is reckless.

No words in defense can offset the media frenzy of British tabloids. A few days of EU bashing is food for the soul.

The AstraZenica vaccine still has not been approved by the American FDA for emergency use. Trump and his Covid-19 Czar had placed a 1.2bn bet on Oxford and AstraZenica in Project Warp Speed. This effort has brought promise in the vaccination to solve a rampant pandemic. By the way, the South Eastern Asian nations had a better policy of mitigation. So did Australia and New Zealand.

Boris Johnson and the UK are in a more isolated place than ever. Brexit never was about long term gain, short term we needed to gain political power and got the deceat funded by some wealthy donors. The West is very fortunate to have replaced Trump in an honest election to detriment of populist leaders like Boris Johnson, Mark Rutte, Brazil's Bolsonaro and Israel's Netanyahu.

Can't discount the task of rightwing media since the Second World War and the role of the intelligence community ...

American Free Press and the Mockingbird Syndrome

Britain's use of militarized war propaganda tools ...

Hybrid Warfare: Statecraft Integrity Initiative

Once the Tory propaganda machine is running full speed, words make no difference.

by Oui on Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 09:20:26 AM EST
Irish Times: EU Commission boss admits mistakes in vaccine procurement

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has admitted failures in the procurement of corona vaccines at European level. The EU underestimated the complications that can arise in the production of such vaccines, said von der Leyen in an interview with the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and other European media. In response to the criticism that the EU had ordered too hesitantly, she said: "Of course: a country can be a speedboat. And the EU is more of a tanker. "

The German Commission President further said: "We have focused very much on the question of whether there will be a vaccine, that is, the development." From today's perspective, one should have "thought more closely about the challenges of mass production in parallel".

Gerd Kerkhoff sees "total failure" when purchasing vaccines

Nonsense! Not just purchasing of vaccines, bottleneck was clearly commitment to contract for deliveries and the production facilities weren't there. Hoarding by states with production facilities such as the US, UK and even India. Globalization, outsourcing and slashing of domestic Healthcare ... austerity that came back to bite.

by Oui on Fri Feb 5th, 2021 at 07:01:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dutch exceptionalism: Superior failure in the year of coronavirus | Dutch News by Ben Coates |

Ben Coates became a Dutch citizen ... can't be blamed for not understanding local politics, Mark Rutte is quite similar to Boris and his Conservative policies. The Dutch didn't test nor count the elderly in care homes or died at home from Covid-19. True data wild level the Dutch with their neighbours Belgium 🇧🇪 at the bottom of Europe.

Caught Between Herd Immunity And National Lockdown, The Netherlands Hit Hard By Covid-19 | Forbes - March 27, 2020 |

Why The Dutch Are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands

by Oui on Thu Mar 4th, 2021 at 06:58:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 4th, 2021 at 12:02:28 PM EST
by Oui on Sat Feb 6th, 2021 at 08:25:42 PM EST
The growing Brexit threat to Ireland

On Wednesday at prime minister's questions, the DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr told Boris Johnson in a chilling intervention that "the protocol has betrayed us and has made us feel like foreigners in our own country". He asked Johnson: "Will you legislate, if necessary, to remove the impediments to trade in Northern Ireland? Will you be a man of your word and allow businessmen in my constituency to bin the unnecessary documentation that you told us we could bin? Prime minister, be the Unionist we need you to be."

EU Commission's NI Border Blunder

One security source predicted it would take strong leadership to undo the damage caused by the commission's article 16 blunder. The source said the EU had always tried to occupy the moral high ground, insisting it would do every everything to protect the Good Friday agreement "and then they go and trigger 16, which blew everything out of the water.

"How do you get back to a position where the adults in the room are acting in a way that brings more stability and not undermining what little stability there is."

Btw the Dutch too don't get their British goods delivered ... one importer had a delivery of Scot's whiskey delayed by four weeks. In the end helping out to fill in the necessary forms ...

Nissan forced to shut UK production line owing to supply delays

British business leaders warn of 'substantial difficulties' at UK ports

by Oui on Sun Feb 7th, 2021 at 09:26:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
EU to bring in `Irish eyes and ears' to avoid another blunder
The European Commission is reviewing how regulations are made and its communication with Irish officials in a bid to avoid a repeat of a blunder seen to have destabilised Northern Ireland's delicate post-Brexit settlement.

It follows the use of the sensitive Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in an initial version of a regulation last month, a move that was hastily reversed after urgent calls from Dublin.

Irish officials were only informed that the article had been used after the regulation had already been published, which immediately caused a furore in Dublin, Belfast and London and questions about how communications had broken down.


Anything to do with Northern Ireland is to receive additional scrutiny, with the team of Ireland's Commissioner Mairead McGuinness brought in to be consulted where needed.

"It's a widening of consultation, to make sure Irish eyes and ears are brought in to make sure there's no repeat of the mistake," a senior official said.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Feb 10th, 2021 at 12:49:19 AM EST

Brexit: Irish PM asks EU and UK to 'dial down rhetoric' before crisis talks

by Oui on Thu Feb 11th, 2021 at 03:52:49 PM EST
by Oui on Thu Feb 11th, 2021 at 03:55:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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