IN response to Richard Sykes (Craven Herald letters, February 18) I must regrettably disagree with his statement that the EU vaccine purchasing scheme was voluntary for all countries.

There was a Franco-German initiative which invited the Netherlands and Italy to join their buyers’ club.

On June 13, the quartet — known as the “Inclusive Vaccine Alliance” — announced a deal for between 300 million and 400 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

The Alliance said it would talk to the Commission about working together “where possible” and that other countries could join in — but “the four countries just realized at one point, there's no time to wait until everyone is on board,” said one senior EU diplomat from an alliance country. “Let's just give it a push; let's just start right now.”

This did not go down well with some of the other countries, so on June 17, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides presented what would become the EU’s new vaccine plan, and Von der Leyen’s team also sweetened the pot for the members of the Alliance: For dropping their purchasing deal, each of the four countries scored seats on the seven-member negotiating team. (The remaining three spots went to Spain, Portugal and Poland.) From then on the EU negotiated as a bloc.

I very much agree with Mr Sykes that the EU is paying less for vaccines than every other country, but cost can be measured in two ways – present and future.

Israel decided that money was less important than lives, so is first in the race to vaccinate its citizens – but at a higher cost.

The UK is doing very well, and certainly better by far than any EU member – because the UK decided similarly, as did the USA. The EU decided that its members would act together, and negotiate the lowest prices, and it most certainly achieved that – but at what future cost, both financially and in lives?

And Berlin has also raised the ire of other countries with informal — and possibly illegal, according to the Commission — unilateral side deals with CureVac for 20 million doses and BioNTech for 30 million – for Germany alone, encouraging such as Hungary to buy vaccines for its citizens from Russia, Germany having shown that ‘acting together’ did not include Germany.

And the EU went into ‘panic mode’ upon realising what they had done over vaccines, with Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator until last year, blaming Ms von der Leyen for exacerbating the vaccines fiasco, as he termed it, and was particularly critical of the European Commission president’s panicked handling of the situation that saw her threaten to introduce a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

According to a report in The Times, he said: “The use of the Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol has been a diplomatic disaster that destroyed in a few seconds the seriousness of the negotiations with the UK conducted by the European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier for more than three years.”

There is a very good – IMO of course – breakdown and explanation as to how the EU went all out for price control, and achieved that, whilst such as Israel, the UK, and the USA, went for speed, and achieved that.*

The future will let us know which was the best route to follow, but I’m sure that many will already have their own opinions as to which was the right choice.


Alan Perrow