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Αρχική English Edition Profiteering in the COVID era

Profiteering in the COVID era


By Timoleon Palaiologos, 

The coronavirus pandemic has been around for more than a year now, having altered our lives completely and forced us to take extreme measures of isolation in order to preserve the rapid spread of the virus. Even though most developed countries have for the second or third time in a year taken extreme measures to halt the virus, such as nationwide lockdowns and night curfews, there seems to be a third wave of the virus in the midst of the ongoing vaccination process.

It has been more than a year since the Peoples Republic of China, on December 31st 2019, confirmed that they had been treating dozens of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in the city of Wuhan. On the 11th of January 2020, the first death from covid-19 was reported and on the 30th of January the World Health Organization declared a health pandemic. We all know how things escalated from there, having all types of public life shutdown and our personal freedoms widely restricted in order to battle the spread of the virus.

Quickly, a lot of businesses, mostly of technological interests, adapted to the newly changed situation and some even managed to profit from this unforeseen catastrophe. Unfortunately, not all activities could use the pandemic’s consequences to their benefit, as fields centered around the movement and service of people -such as tourism- and generally all the fields that require the natural presence of a person were struck hard by the aftermath of the pandemic.

The Vaccine

Personally, I remember hearing about the importance of vaccination in the battle against covid-19 around the summer. Mainly Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines were around the center of attention, approximately at the same time when the first lockdown limitations were beginning to be lifted in the EU, around May and June. I believe it is easy to assume how the vaccine situation escalated, with some waiting for the production of a safe vaccine and others completely provoking the vaccine attempts.

The EU, in a swift attempt to ensure the availability of vaccines for its member states, entered negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and signed agreements concerning the potential purchase of certain amounts of vaccines ones they had been deemed safe and effective to use. On the 14th of August 2020, the European Commission reached a first agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase a potential coronavirus vaccine. On the 27th August, the Commission negotiated the first contract on behalf of the EU Member States with a pharmaceutical company that was to be entered into force following the formal signature between AstraZeneca and the Commission. On the 11th November 2020, the European Union approved the contract with the pharmaceutical company BioNTech-Pfizer, which would provide for the initial purchase of 200 million doses on behalf of all EU member states, plus an option to purchase up to a further 100 million doses. At last, on the 25th of November the EU reached an agreement with another pharmaceutical company, Moderna, for the initial purchase of 80 million doses and an option to request 80 million more if need be.

image source: (Photo by JOEL SAGET) AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Russia was the first country to begin a vaccination program on the 5th of December 2020, using the Russian made “Sputnik V” vaccine, followed by the UK on the 8th of December using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The EU general vaccination began on the 27th of December with the exception of Germany, Hungary and Slovakia who began the vaccination process one day earlier, on the 26th.

At this point in time, the 27 member states and the approximately 450.000.000 EU citizens could finally, after almost a year, feel relieved and be optimistic about an actual end to the pandemic. However, the things did not develop as smoothly as they should have and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca reduced the amount of vaccines provided to the EU after a supposed problem in the company’s production line in Belgium. And while the EU was expecting a delivery of 80 million doses by March, AstraZeneca informed the EU officials in a teleconference that they would provide only 31 million doses, less than half of the expected. Furthermore, at the same time Pfizer informed the EU that they had to slow down their vaccine deliveries in order to upgrade their factory. This situation left the EU in a difficult position with the latter stating that they would have to impose a strict export policy regarding the export of vaccines produced within the European Union’s jurisdiction area. Moreover, the EU demanded AstraZeneca to redirect some of the vaccines produced in the company’s UK factory to the EU in order to partially fulfil the expected numbers. Since then, the agreement between AstraZeneca and the European Commission has been published for purposes of full transparency.

Personal thoughts

It is certain that we live through unprecedented times and we have to surpass obstacles in every step of the way. However, I as a citizen cannot accept AstraZeneca’s stance in the matter concerning the vaccines. The EU has spent millions of euros in order to boost the research and development of the vaccine and it is unacceptable for a company of such stature with such an important medical role to solely provide for a separate country, instead of a Union of countries mainly driven by microeconomic interests at heart. The use of the vaccine is our only way of returning to the normal way of life that existed before covid-19. Businesses and people are on the verge of collapse expecting the return to “normality” and some people that control the process play unethical games. The European Commission’s role in this fiasco should be criticized as well, as it is the EU’s passive stance and “civilized” approach that has led to this controversy.


References
  • A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic, The New York Times, Available here. 
  • Press corner, European Commission, Available here. 
  • EU visit to vaccine plant under scrutiny over AstraZeneca delays, Euronews, Available here.
  • Covid: Why is EU’s vaccine rollout so slow?, BBC News, Available here. 
  • E.U. and U.K. Fighting Over Scarce Vaccines, The New York Times, Available here. 
  • Coronavirus vaccines strategy, European Commission, Available here.
  • Which country in Europe is leading the way on COVID vaccinations?, Euronews, Available here.

 

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Timoleon Palaiologos
Tim was born in Athens in 2001 where he was raised. He is an undergraduate student in the Department of History and Archaeology in the University of Ioannina and an admirer of modern greek history. He is especially interested in greek foreign relations and developments in the European continent. Travelling and meeting new people constitute his favourite hobbies.