LONDON — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it herself: “The start was tough.”
The European Union has had a bumpy Covid-19 vaccine rollout. The campaign has prompted complaints that regulators were too slow to approve the shots and led to a simmering tussle with AstraZeneca as the pharmaceutical giant repeatedly slashed its delivery commitments.
The World Health Organization expressed concern earlier this week that the region’s ongoing coronavirus crisis now appears “more worrying” than it has for several months. The warning comes as many countries introduce new measures in an attempt to curb a third wave of infections.
The health agency also described Europe’s vaccination campaign as “unacceptably slow” and said it was crucial to speed up the rollout because new infections are currently increasing in every age group apart from those aged 80 years or older.
It’s a messy picture, further complicated by the unique nature of European politics.
“There have been various problems with the system, and it is a complex system, so I think it’s key not to point the finger to one pointed failure but recognize that it’s very complex,” Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told CNBC.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has been in charge of negotiating contracts with the pharmaceutical firms on behalf of the 27 member states. The institution is also responsible for overseeing the exports of the shots produced in the bloc.
However, health policy matters are a competence of the member states, which means the 27 capitals organize the inoculations in their own countries and can ultimately decide to buy Covid shots outside the deals struck by the commission, for example.
This juxtaposition between national and EU institutions has often hindered the reputation of the bloc in the wider vaccination efforts.
“There is issues to do with both (national and EU institutions). There clearly are politics in it and we have all heard about that in the media, but there are also issues to do with the decision-making structures, the commissions’ views and the priorities of member states,” Bauld told CNBC.
AstraZeneca shot suspension
This was highlighted recently when 13 EU countries decided to halt the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot while possible side effects were investigated.
At the time, the European Medicines Agency – the drugs regulator for the entire 27-member region — recommended that countries continue to use the vaccine even while it was reviewing data of blood clots in some vaccinated people. But some member states preferred to be cautious and used their sovereign power to stop the use of this vaccine while the EMA completed its review. The drug regulator’s safety committee concluded in a preliminary review that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risk of side effects.
It has also been the case that heads of state have used the institutions in Brussels to complain about the hiccups in the process. Earlier in March, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said there was “secrecy” in the decision to distribute the vaccines at the commission’s steering board.
The group, which is chaired by the commission, has representatives from all the member states, including Austria.
“Why do they come up with this now knowing that Austria is a member of the steering board, like the 26 other member states, and has been informed of the previous allocations like the others?” an EU official from another member state, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, asked during a CNBC interview in March.
The distribution of the vaccines is carried out on a pro-rata basis, depending on the size of the countries’ population. But some EU nations were particularly keen to have more of the AstraZeneca shot, since it is cheaper and easier to store than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“If a member state decides not to take up its pro rata allocation, the doses are redistributed among the other interested member states,” the commission said in a statement in March.
The distribution of vaccines became an issue as a result of AstraZeneca’s repeated cuts to supply deliveries.
While the EU was expecting to receive 90 million doses of the shot by the end of the first quarter, the pharmaceutical giant said it could only deliver 40 million doses in that timeframe. This was later revised down to 30 million doses.
AstraZeneca has blamed low yields in European plants for the lower deliveries. Additionally, the drugmaker has said it could only aim to deliver 70 million doses between April and June, when the EU was expecting 180 million in the same period.
“We also know that AstraZeneca has unfortunately under-produced and under-delivered. And this painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign,” von der Leyen said at a press conference in March.
Tougher export rules
To solve this issue, the commission proposed stricter rules on exports of shots produced in the bloc.
Since the end of January, the 27 countries can stop shipments of Covid vaccines when a company is not complying with delivery targets with the EU. This is how the Italian government stopped a shipment of AstraZeneca shots from going to Australia in March. Between the end of January and late March, the commission received 315 requests for vaccine exports, but only this one was refused.
But because EU officials are concerned about further delivery delays, the commission decided to toughen up the export regulations from late March onward.
The commission will not only be checking whether the pharma companies are delivering on schedule, but also whether the recipient country has any bans or restrictions of Covid vaccines produced there and whether this nation also has a better epidemiological situation than the EU.
“It is quite concerning at the political level the whole discussion about exports restrictions, controls or even bans,” Dimitri Eynikel, coordinator at Medecins sans Frontieres, told CNBC. He added that this could lead to further obstructions, divisions and delays in vaccine distributions.
Ultimately the supply chain is international and if one nation were to stop sending raw materials to the EU, for example, then that could undermine the production of the shots within the bloc.
The EU’s move to have stricter oversight on where vaccines go sparked criticisms of vaccine nationalism.
“I think the EU is definitely prioritizing its population first but no different from other high-income countries or regions. The United States is doing the same, the U.K. is doing the same so in that sense (the EU) is no different,” Eynikel said.
Data shared by the International Monetary Fund has shown that China, India and the EU are among the biggest exporters of Covid shots, while the U.S. and the U.K. have exported none so far.
Hopes for the second quarter
Despite several issues so far, the EU is confident that the next three months will prove to be a turning point in the vaccine program.
In total, the commission is expecting 360 million doses of Covid shots between April and June, meaning it is well placed to achieve its target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population before the end of summer.
“Despite the fact that things could have gone faster, granted, but we have had a great success. The alternative of not having procured vaccines together would be that we would be competing between European member states and possibly some of us would have not have the vaccine even at this stage,” Chris Fearne, Malta’s health minister, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday.
Ocean politics, DNA history and the climate experiment: Books in brief – Nature.com
To Rule the Waves
Bruce D. Jones Scribner (2021)
The oceans are the key zone for potential military confrontation; some 85% of global commerce relies on them; around 90% of global data flows along undersea cables; oceans are central in the global fight over climate change. Those four simple facts are analysed in this penetrating historical and political study. Author Bruce Jones, director of the project on international order at Washington DC think tank the Brookings Institution, fears future oceanic conflict, especially now that COVID-19 has amplified existing international tensions.
The Secret of Life
Howard Markel Norton (2021)
The 1953 discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure might be one of science’s most fascinating and oft-told stories. Yet much about it is still contentious — even who termed it “the secret of life”. Historian of medicine Howard Markel’s fine book focuses on the role of Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray crystallography image of DNA — crucial to Francis Crick and James Watson’s breakthrough — was used without her permission. A hesitant Watson tells Markel that he was “honest but … you wouldn’t say I was exactly honorable”.
A Biography of the Pixel
Alvy Ray Smith MIT Press (2021)
Pixel is short for ‘picture element’: a misleading etymology, writes computer scientist Alvy Smith, who co-founded Pixar Animation Studios in 1979. Pixels are invisible, like computer bits, and not to be confused with “the little glowing areas on a screen, called display elements”. Hence this book’s technical core: how the former is converted to the latter, and the thinkers who paved the way. These range from Alan Turing to the undersung graphics mathematicians involved in the films Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Finding Nemo and more.
Our Biggest Experiment
Alice Bell Bloomsbury Sigma (2021)
Climate campaigner and science writer Alice Bell’s nuanced and accessible history of the climate crisis describes the legacy of scientists including Eunice Foote, the first to warn that increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide would affect global temperatures, at an 1856 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. By ignoring Foote’s insight for so long, “we’ve inherited an almighty mess”, concludes Bell. But “a lot of tools” can alleviate the effects of global warming, if used wisely.
Being a Human
Charles Foster Profile (2021)
Vet and barrister Charles Foster won an Ig Nobel Prize for living in the wild as various animals, as described in Being a Beast (2016). In his latest book — controversial, yet oddly compelling — he lives as if in the upper Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Enlightenment periods, and compares human consciousness in each. Ancient hunter-gatherers, he argues, were superior to modern urban-dwellers for their “cosmopolitanism” and “motion”. He savages written language, invented post-Neolithic, for its “wholly spurious authority” over experience.
An anti-green backlash could reshape British politics – The Economist
WHATEVER A British voter’s natural political hue—Tory blue, Labour red or Liberal Democrat orange—these days it ends up green-tinged. The Tory government talks effusively about “building back greener”. Labour wants a “green industrial revolution”. Liberal Democrats have used their position as the third party to argue for everybody to go further and faster. And then there are all the people who want to raze the carbon economy to the ground the day after tomorrow: not just the Green Party but also extremist groupuscules such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.
Which leaves a gap in the market for something different: anti-green politics. Brexit transformed Britain by tapping into ordinary people’s resentment of distant elites, and anti-greenery could do the same. Environmentalism is driven by populists’ two big bogeymen, scientific experts and multilateral institutions. Green campaigners vie to befuddle the public with acronyms and jargon. Multilateral institutions override democratic legislatures in order to co-ordinate global action. In the public mind, greenery is coming to mean global confabs that produce yet more directives, and protesters who block city centres and motorways.
Greenery suffers from the classic problems of technocratic policymaking, namely offering distant rewards in return for immediate sacrifices and imposing uneven costs. Over-50s, the most reliable voters, won’t be around to see the world boil. Poorer people are likely to suffer more than richer ones from the green transition, not just because they have less disposable income but also because they are more likely to work in the dirty economy. The impression of injustice is reinforced by the fact that many of the most vocal green activists have a material interest in the green economy as bureaucrats, lobbyists and entrepreneurs.
A fuel-price rise in 2018 inspired France’s gilets jaunes; Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and Finland’s Finns Party have lambasted green hysteria. In Britain, by contrast, anti-greenery is still nascent. Some on the Tory right have complained that their party is in the grip of the green lobby. A few MPs in the “red wall”—once-safe Labour seats in northern England that turned Tory over Brexit—have warned that green levies on driving could see those voters switch back again. The closure of some London streets to through-traffic has sparked protests.
But such rows are about to get a lot louder. Turbulence on the global energy market is drawing unflattering attention to British energy suppliers, which are struggling with the transition from coal- and gas-fired plants to renewables. The more the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, says about there being “absolutely no question of the lights going out”, the more consumers will worry. And other environmental policies on the horizon will also hit them hard. From 2030 the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned. The electric cars that will replace them are rapidly improving, but not yet as cheap or as convenient. For city-dwellers it is hard enough to find parking without having to look for a charging-point too, and long journeys require planning.
Since the discovery of gas in the North Sea in 1965, most British homes have used the fuel to heat their homes. But the government plans to take gas-fired boilers off the market in the coming years, to be replaced by hydrogen boilers or heat pumps. The date for the switchover is slipping, since neither technology is ready for mass roll-out. Air-source heat pumps are larger than gas boilers, produce lower temperatures and cost much more. People’s enthusiasm for greenery may reach its limits if familiar, well-functioning products are replaced by more expensive, inferior ones.
In the past decade climate-change denialism has given way to something cannier and harder to pin down. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and a major force behind Brexit, claims that he is as green as the next man—indeed that he voted for the Green Party back in the 1980s—but that he’s in favour of “sensible environmentalism” rather than the establishment kind that taxes “poor people to give money to rich people and big corporations while China’s going to ignore it all”.
Anti-greens are also seeking to reshape politics indirectly: not just by creating new parties, but by changing the hue of the established ones from inside. For neither of Britain’s biggest parties is as deep-dyed green as they appear to onlookers. The Conservative Party certainly has big names who preach environmentalism, like Zac Goldsmith, an aristocratic Brexiteer. But it has always also been the party of homeowners who care about their energy bills, motorists who want to get the last mile from every gallon and older people who don’t want to change their ways. More recently, they have been joined by red wall voters with little spare cash. Labour, for its part, is an uneasy coalition of graduates, who cheer every green initiative, and lower-paid workers, who are nostalgic for the days of well-paid jobs in heavy industry and primarily concerned with making ends meet.
Hot air emissions
How to avert an anti-green backlash? Politicians need to avoid unforced errors, such as making everyone rip out perfectly good boilers before replacements are ready. They need to shield vulnerable groups from the costs of the energy transition, remembering how the mood turned against globalisation when politicians failed to honour promises to compensate the losers. They need to see the world through the eyes of people who accept that climate change is a problem but must ceaselessly struggle to get by in the here and now. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, won easy applause at a UN round table on climate action this week by expressing frustration that the “something” the world is doing to limit global warming is “not enough”. The audience he really needs to convince is the one that laughed along to his provocations before he re-entered Parliament in 2015, such as mocking wind power as too weak to pull the skin off a rice pudding.
Emily Tracy: Redistricting has not separated itself from partisan politics – Canon City Daily Record
Special to the Daily Record
I have homes in two communities – Cañon City and Breckenridge – and vote in Fremont County. I have lived in rural Colorado since 1977. Since 2002, I have run for office in a total of 13 rural counties. I am an uncontested candidate for the City Council of Cañon City in the November election.
I have followed the work of the Congressional Redistricting Commission for months, submitting comments and testifying before the Commission several times. I am a supporter of the southern Congressional District concept. I submitted a map in July to the Commission outlining a possible southern district. I now support the amended Headwaters map submitted by Commissioner Tafoya at the September 20 Congressional Redistricting Commission meeting.
A southern Congressional district meets southern and central Colorado community of interest needs. It reflects the cultural history, the watersheds, public lands, commercial and outdoor recreation connections, and transportation corridors of the area.
I am impressed with the September 20 Tafoya map. It appears that great care was taken to not only reflect communities of interest but to also address the other Constitutional priorities including adhering to provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, achieving district compactness plus equal population in each district. In addition, the Tafoya map appears to increase the number of competitive districts as required by Section 44.3 of Article V of the Colorado Constitution.
The three substantially rural districts the Tafoya map proposes truly reflect different concentrations of rural interests. There is no single “rural Colorado,” but instead there are multiple rural interests which concentrate geographically in this proposed map: (1) The energy, public lands, and agricultural interests of northwest Colorado; (2) The agricultural, tourism, cultural, and public lands interests of southern Colorado; and (3) the agricultural and non-public lands (mostly) interests of northeast Colorado.
I know that the Congressional Commission has struggled with the process, and unfortunately seems now to be suffering from not clearly determining early on how to measure Constitutional and Commission priorities. As stated in a recent Colorado Sun article, “Legislative attorney Jeremiah Barry noted several times at a [recent] meeting . . . that the commission hasn’t given nonpartisan staff direction on complying with constitutional-redistricting provisions, including where to set the bar for political competitiveness. ‘We still have no direction,’ he said.”
The clock is now running out, so the Commission probably does need to play out its process without going back to correct early errors and omissions. Of course, maps themselves convey implicit priorities so the discussion now centers around multiple divergent maps. The Second Staff Plan map conveys certain priorities, and the Tafoya September 20 map conveys others.
My concern is that the Commission’s majority support (confirmed by a 11-1 Commission vote on Sept. 20) for a western slope/eastern plains configuration suggests to me that partisan voices are being heard in rural Colorado more than community of interest voices. There are rural organizations weighing in heavily on this process who purport to be the voice(s) of rural Colorado. They do not fully represent rural Colorado. Instead, they represent rural Republicans.
If you have followed redistricting at all you know that our new process in Colorado has in no way separated itself from partisan politics. Instead, those politics have played out on the Congressional Commission in disguise, with Commissioners attacking each other instead of focusing on achieving the best possible map for the state. I hope that we ultimately have a good map that serves the state well for the next 10 years, but it is not common for a botched process to have a good outcome.
Credit 'Zombies' on the Rise as Real Estate Firms Lead Charge – BNN
As COVID-19 vaccines for kids get closer, experts weigh up how to reassure parents – CBC.ca
For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk – Sportsnet.ca
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
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