Irish Examiner view: Vaccine wars to stiffen rules

Irish Examiner view: Vaccine wars to stiffen rules

That the EU has responded to the AstraZeneca controversy by suggesting vaccines destined for Britain would be blocked within days suggests we have reached a dog-eat-dog moment.

There is a brief moment in the scene-setting stage of that 1964 cinema epic Zulu when 150 British soldiers defending Rorke's Drift station against 4,000 local warriors felt a frisson of hope. After repelling the first, high-casualty Zulu attacks they imagined they might easily prevail only to be disabused. "They are only testing your defences and checking your gun numbers and placements," said an experienced policeman.

It is tempting, though far too glib, to suggest that Brexit Britain is testing EU defences over a 60% reduction in contracted vaccine supplies from British plants producing the AstraZeneca vaccine. There are far, far more lives at stake. So too is the relationship between Britain and the EU, one already strained and bruised over the last number of years.

EU states were more than disappointed last week when the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca company announced would cut vaccine deliveries to the EU by 60% in the first quarter of the year. The company cited production problems though the location of some of their plants in Oxford and Staffordshire seems to be the decisive issue. That reality did not prevent an AstraZeneca deal in the hundreds of millions to supply the EU  vaccines, one they cannot deliver because Britain, unsurprisingly, wants those vaccines for its own use. 

That the EU responded by suggesting vaccines destined for Britain would be blocked within days suggests we have reached a dog-eat-dog moment. As the EU shortage of vaccines bites home those tensions will deepen. 

Whether it was naive to hope vaccines would be exported from a country with its own needs or whether the manufacturer's decision to break a contract is an act of modern piracy is almost academic. We are, to use that half-forgotten injunction, where we are. As a relatively small, economically feeble force we may feel a chill wind, and endure a far longer vaccine wait than others though maybe not as long as the world's poorer, more easily ignored countries.

That changing circumstance, as is always the case with the pandemic, has added momentum to opposition calls for stricter lockdown measures. It is hard, even as figures seem to stabilise, to imagine that more challenging limitations on our lives will not be imposed.  

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