Bureaucracy Kills – UK v EU Vaccine War

Bureaucracy Kills – UK v EU Vaccine War

After a year of lockdowns, vaccinations are finally making their way into the arms of eager citizens around the globe. The speed of that progress differs greatly between nations however. The UK is kicking butt and taking names with the third fastest vaccination rate in the world, behind only Israel and the UAE. Within Europe, the UK takes the top spot… and it’s not even close. 


A little over 8.3 million people have had their first dose in the UK and just under half a million have completed their second dose, as of January 30th. With a population of only 66 million, the UK is well on its way to have most of its population vaccinated by summer. 

Additionally, the UK was the first nation to approve both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 2nd and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on December 30th. The Moderna vaccine was approved the first week in January. 

European Union Malfeasance

Contrast this impressive haste with the European Union. EU member states aren’t even vaccinating at half the rate of the UK. Even Germany, which is usually very efficient, is vaccinating at only 20% of the UK’s rate. 

One reason for the lackadaisical vaccine distribution is due to the delay in approval by the European Medicines Agency, the regulatory agency that approves and recommends to the European Commission that a medicine can be marketed across the EU as well as in the European Economic Area. The EMA was nearly three weeks behind the UK in its Pfizer-BioNTech approval and only approved the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine 3 days ago (January 29th). One of the reasons for this delay is due to the EU’s requirement that the drug label be printed in 24 languages.

Additionally, the EU delayed signing advanced purchasing contracts with vaccine developers last year. The UK committed to a deal with AstraZeneca in May while the EU waited until August. The EU also ordered too few vaccines during these negotiations and failed to invest enough money in the production plants within the EU (Netherlands and Germany).

More evidence of mismanagement includes the EU purchasing the failed Sanofi vaccine, supply shortages, a lack of nurses and burdensome paperwork. EU member states are completely fed up. Hungary has bypassed the EU to approve both Russia’s Sputnik vaccine and China’s Sinopharm, neither of which are approved by the EU. Italy irrationally attempted to sue AstraZeneca for failing to deliver their pre-ordered vaccines, despite the fact that the EU hadn’t approved it yet.

To cope with this embarrassing showing, the EU has demanded that exports and imports go through the EU first, in an attempt to hoard all of the product for member states. The EU even triggered but later rescinded Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement to institute a temporary hard border between the Republic of Ireland (an EU state) and Northern Ireland (a non-EU state), alleging the UK might intercept vaccines meant for the EU… as if.

Prioritizing Process Over Results

Thomas Sowell writes ‘You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats, procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.’

The bureaucrats at the European Union have demanded to oversee every aspect of the vaccine development, approval, manufacturing, delivery, etc. It is precisely this fixation on process that Sowell refers to that prevents regulators from delivering results unlike the free market that is primarily driven by outcomes. 

Imagine you are operating an assembly line with five people to complete a task. Four members of that assembly line can get the same task completed in a shorter amount of time for less money. The fifth person doesn’t actually add value, but does continuously chastise the other workers that they are doing it wrong. That’s the EU in a nutshell.

Centralized Control & the Knowledge Problem

Back during the Brexit negotiations, remain voters and progressive publications warned that leaving the European Medicines Agency was going to endanger the lives of UK citizens. They could not fathom that a sovereign UK could make its own medical decisions without an official EU decree.

But we now see the dismal fruits of centralized decision making in the EU. The fatal flaw for the EU can be best explained by Friedrich Hayek’s ‘knowledge problem.’ The knowledge problem resolves that problems are best solved when solutions are ‘dispersed’ among individual people, or in this case dispersed among individual countries within Europe. 

The UK solved their problem by relying on their robust medical research industry to deliver a working vaccine with minimal government intervention. They then depended on the knowledge from medical factories within the UK on how and where to produce. They then depended on the expertise of logistic companies to deliver and hospitals to administer vaccines to their local patients. They did not submit decisions to unelected regulators at the EU, they relied on individual entities within the UK to use their expertise at each step of the vaccination process. The EU has no such knowledge about the inner workings of each nation within the EU, and therefore will never be equipped to make such decisions. 

Essentially, the bigger the problem, the more locally it should be dealt with. The UK knows what’s best for the UK, just as Hungary, Italy, and Germany know what is best for their countries. And more importantly, localized decision making is the best way for constituents to air their grievances.  

It is nearly impossible for your average citizen in Poland to petition the EU to change their operating procedures, but it is much easier for your average European citizen to take that objection to their local members of parliament. 

We have witnessed similar decentralized successes in the United States. The Trump administration left vaccination ordering and dispensing up to individual states with minimal federal intervention. The states know how many vaccines they need, what proportion need to be reserved for the most vulnerable, and where best to deliver the vaccines. Some states like Florida, have done a fairly good job distributing the vaccine, while others, like New York have not. In instances where the state failed, like Gov. Cuomo’s vaccine hierarchy that forced medical staff to throw away precious vaccines, uproar from New York citizens and even New York City Mayor, Bill DeBlasio, eventually forced the governor to change the guidelines.  

There were a lot of grave predictions made when the UK decided to leave the EU and restore its independence and self-governance. This EU vaccine fiasco has undoubtedly proven those skeptics wrong.

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