The Vaccine Roll-out Problem

In part two of the series, we’re exploring the distribution issue facing vaccine roll out in Ireland. The issue is not with demand but supply, specifically, suppliers consistently failing to meet projected delivery figures and these shortages directly impact government vaccination targets.

Although Ireland itself has its own issues in distributing the vaccine, the overarching fault appears to lie with a lack of supply.

According to ‘Our World in Data’ Ireland’s rate of the rollout is 15.9 per 100 people as of March 26. March 27th the HSE reported vaccination rollout to 224,861 people with 577,641 people requiring a second shot.

Returning to the does per 100 people when we compare these’s figures to the UK and US, Ireland is lagging way behind. So what’s gone wrong with Ireland?

First off, Ireland is part of the EU COVID vaccinate strategy. An agreement among all EU members states for a centralised approach to a vaccine rollout.

The EU Commissions’ purpose is, QUOTE;

Enters into Advanced Purchase Agreements with individual vaccine producers on behalf of Member States.

“In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe and at a given price, the Commission will finance a part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers from the Emergency Support Instrument.”

“This approach will decrease risks for companies while speeding up and increasing manufacturing.”

This ensured smaller counties like Ireland would get a fair price and access to vaccines at the same time as all member states. Although other countries have their own procurement strategies, all Member states signed up. This was an opportunity for the EU to redeem itself after a lack of unity during the initial months of the crisis. It also avoided vaccine nationalism among its larger members states like France or Germany.

But their cautious approach to vaccine approval is only lead to delays and shortages. This undermines their strategy which is seen as a failure by those who already feel Brussels is overly procedural and bureaucratic. It's also frustrating to see the EU’s approach when you compare the EU to the UK who have just left the EU is performing significantly better, be it considered a slightly riskier strategy.

The EU lags behinds significantly too. Although it might not feel like this here, Ireland has in-fact been doing better than the EU average. Do that margin is closing in.

So where did things go wrong with the EU strategy?

Put simply the EU’s speed to approve and sign up with suppliers was the substantive issue and this has been evident from the moment of dispatch.

One could argue to the EU felt it had better negotiating power considering it is the worlds largest economy. To discredit themselves further the EU accuse suppliers like AstraZeneca of “second class” treatment in its failure to fulfil their contractual agreements while prioritising other countries like the UK despite AstraZeneca having signed up with the UK three months prior to the EU.

To aggravate the situation further the EU have since introduced vaccine export controls which can potentially block the export of vaccinations produced in the EU to counties outside the bloc if the suppliers delay EU deliveries.

One may argue this is fair game if companies do not respect their contractual obligations with the EU and the idea of millions of vaccines leaving the EU when they are so desperately needed here can be a bitter pill to swallow. But such approaches have consequences, not just internationally but domestically too. The COVID-19 vaccine is a globalised product, with materials needed for production in the EU required from outside it.

The EU’s blunder with the breaching of the Northern Ireland Protocol was one such example and nearly uprooted the very same painstaking agreement the EU and UK spend months developing to facilitate an impact-less Brexit. Although they U-Turned, their knee-jerk reaction only ignited the political tensions of an already turbulent situation. EU UK has pledged to cooperate but let's not hold our breath on this just yet.

But suppliers are also to blame. Pfizer halted vaccine production in January to facilitate an expansion of its operations, leading to supply shortages. But the biggest turmoil came from AstraZeneca.

Dubbed a game-changer when first rolled out AstraZeneca has since suffered repeated shortages in delivery and their Blood-clotting chronicle is leading to continued bans and roll-out halting across the EU bloc. I’m not going to get into any detail on this as it's a topic in itself, all I will say is the issue hasn’t gone away even if experts continue to advise the benefits outweigh the risks.

In Ireland, The AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second most used vaccine with Pfizer making up the absolute majority.

But over-dependence on AstraZeneca, a slow approval process and a series of knee-jerk reactions only highlight just how unprepared Brussels is for undertaking procurement of this scale. Although Brussels has admitted such failings, it's too little too late with member states like Hungry, Czech, Austria and more are negotiating their own deals with Russia and China for vaccines not yet approved by the EU.

Interestingly Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine was available since September 2020 and by December 1.2 Billion orders were placed internationally. Despite this western media criticised its speedy rollout in the absence of adequate scientific research. By February the Lancet reported positive reviews while the EMA has started reviewing it after pressure from member states like Hungry to help increase supply. Currently, the EU has not approved it and one has to ask is this politicly motivated?

The rush is to get rid of lockdowns, allow the business to open and get people moving again. For fear of another summer in lockdown people, business and governments are willing to push a vaccine regardless of its effectiveness or knowledge.

There are those who are cautious of such a vaccine and already indicated they will resist the jab. But these people are been quickly demonising and has rekindled the age-old debate over mandatory vaccinations. Although it looking unlikely many countries including Ireland will make vaccines mandatory the concept of a vaccination passport, bonus or credit, might help avoid the debate over mandatory vaccinations, however, it may create another problem.

Considering roll out is so poor any perks offered for vaccination is going to be limited to a small fraction of society with the absolute majority of us unable to benefit until we get access to this vaccine. But this is a topic for part 3.

Until then stay sane!

Part 3 - The Vaccine Passport

Part 4 - How other countries managed COVID?

Part 5 + The Update - Where are we now?