Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Compared to the EU's COVID VaxGate, Watergate was merely a transgression: two questions of life or death the EU can't answer satisfactorily

I already mentioned in my first post this year about the EU's miserable failure to buy COVID-19 vaccines (as compared to the U.S., Canada, the UK, Israel, and Bahrain), primarily because the French government didn't want the EU to buy too many doses from non-French companies. That scandal now has a far higher profile, with two of the three parties in Merkel's governing coalition already having voiced criticism in public. Many politicians and reporters in other EU member states haven't understood the significance of this yet. Even France itself will suffer far more from the consequences of Macron's worst initiative than it ever stood to gain.

Merkel and Macron are the Axis of Evil. Many thousands of Europeans will die because of their failure. That's why this is so much worse than Watergate. The EU's VaxGate amounts to political mass murder.

Two questions about COVID-19 vaccine purchases force the EU Commission, the Merkel government, and all their apologists (especially but not only in state-owned media) to be evasive (or to lie):

  1. German newsweekly Der Spiegel cited anonymous sources involved with the EU's vaccine procurement effort as saying that Macron (apparently even personally) told the EU not to buy the 500 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine that could have been in the November 11, 2020 purchase agreement. At that point, Pfizer/BNT had reported amazing Phase 3 results and were clearly ahead of everyone else, and other governments had already secured huge amounts of that vaccine several months earlier. But Macron didn't want an American-German joint project to save Europe from COVID, so he vetoed anything that would have resulted in Pfizer/BNT selling more doses to the EU than French Sanofi, which at that point had already fallen far behind.

  2. A closely related question they can't answer is why the EU signed a deal with slow-moving Sanofi (which won't be able to ship before late 2021, if ever) on September 18, but with front runner Pfizer/BNT almost two months later--while other major purchasers (U.S., UK, Israel etc.) had done so way earlier.

    The difference of two months actually understates the asymmetry by far. One has to look at how much progress a given research project had made at the time. The EU signed with Pfizer/BNT only after they reported stellar results from their Phase 3 study, while Sanofi got a yuuuge contract before it even had any Phase 1 results to show. This is like if one athlete got the Olympic gold medal before the race even starts, while another won't get it until after crossing the finish line ahead of the rest of the world.

These two questions get asked. Obviously, the EU apologists and Merkel sycophants among European political reporters wouldn't raise such tough questions. But there are plenty of unbiased reporters out there, and the analytically stronger ones among them have figured out that those two questions get to the heart of the problem.

If anyone points to the need for diversity (of vaccines, and also of vaccination technologies), that's not wrong but fails to address the above questions. You could have had diversity and still could have placed the right bets. That's simply the combination those other buyers, such as the U.S., achieved.

Diversity is related to costs. But that's a smokescreen. The cost of those COVID lockdowns in Europe is so high that even if the EU had matched offers by the Trump Administration and Israel, and even if they had contractually committed to such quantities in the aggregate of multiple vendors that they could have vaccinated every EU citizen ten times, it would have been cheap compared to the costs of those lockdowns. To put this into perspective, Pfizer/BNT gets about 12 euros per dose from the EU. That's about 25 per vaccinated person. Multiply this by four (other vaccines actually cost less, or even much less), and you arrive at a cost of €8 billion for Germany (approximately 80 million inhabitants), where the cost of a protracted lockdown amounts to hundreds of billions of euros as Dr. Daniel Stelter and other economists have pointed out. Frankly, "penny-wise and dollar-foolish" is a gross understatement when you're dealing with a cost to Europe that is practically in the trillions of euros versus a cost in the billions.

One of the things you'll hear from the EU Commission is that they deny any political reason behind the Sanofi deal. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt that they had a reasonable basis to assume Sanofi would deliver (it actually ran into serious problems after the deal). But the question is not whether the Sanofi deal might have made sense if viewed in isolation. What neither the EU nor the Merkel Administration have denied so far is that the French government prevented the EU from upping the purchase volume in its Pfizer/BNT deal, especially as it was signed after Phase 3 and at a point when Sanofi was far, far behind. That was just pharma protectionism and nationalism on the French government's part--which will cost many thousands of lives this year, make many people suffer COVID symptoms, make people lose their jobs, and make companies go out of business.

Under President Nixon, people died because of a war he had inherited. The Merkel-Macron Axis of Evil (as Merkel simply supported what Macron was doing) will be responsible for countless deaths in 2021.

One of the "red herrings" in this context is that they say they'll eventually get enough for every EU citizen to be vaccinated, and the current bottleneck is manufacturing capacity. Yes, and that's why the EU's decisions were so terrible. At a minimum, by placing a large order early on, rather than the same quantity later, or a smaller quantity first and a reorder later, you make sure your orders are high up in the queue. Also, if the EU had committed to 500 million doses when it signed the Pfizer/BNT deal (which had obviously been under negotiation for more than a couple of days, but it would always have been easy to just modify a couple of numbers in the contract), Pfizer/BNT would have had a basis for investing sooner and more aggressively in additional European manufacturing capacity.

The problem facing the EU now is that customers such as the U.S., UK, and Israel are ahead of them in the queue. It's not a strict sequence in the sense that the EU wouldn't be served before the others are, but the others get a lot more at this point.

Another red herring that doesn't get better by being repeated also fails to address the real issue: they like to point to logistical issues in various EU member states, and different regions of Germany. While it's plausible that there are now, at the start of the mass vaccination effort, places where the bottleneck is of an organizational nature, it's just a question of one or two months until those minor local and regional shortcomings have been addressed, and then a shortage of supply will be the only major problem. A lethal shortage, that is.

Apart from those points, a German Member of the European Parliament, Merkel minion Peter Liese, said on TV that the Trump Administration and other early adopters of the Pfizer/BNT vaccine accepted weaker indemnification clauses, which caused a delay in the EU. But it's simply a business reality that in a seller's market, it's not just that prices may go up but also that other deal terms may not be the ones a buyer prefers. But who would want to let people die and suffer, and companies go out of business, over an indemnification clause?

Similarly irrelevant is the fact that a group of four countries (Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands), who were originally working on a joint-purchasing initiative before they asked (under pressure from Merkel and von der Leyen) the EC to take over, primarily wanted to sign a deal with AstraZeneca in June. That was before the EU's deals with Sanofi and Pfizer/BNT, and there's no evidence that they were going to rely exclusively on Astra.

The excuses I just mentioned are merely diversionary tactics. But some of the apologists are either extremely stupid or liars: they argue that even by the summer, Sanofi was considered to be ahead. The truth is this: you can take any EU decision and look at when it was made, and then you look up the New York Times' Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, which will show you that Pfizer/BNT and Moderna had actually been in the lead when the EU still prioritized other vendors.

The question is not whether VaxGate is the absolute low in the history of the European Union, and whether countless people will die as a result. The only question is whether they'll be able to somehow mitigate the damage. Yesterday Merkel expressed hopes that the supply situation would improve as a result of additional vaccines being approved. She particularly mentioned AstraZeneca (Dr. Fauci wonders whom to vaccinate with an inferior product), Johnson & Johnson (also a vector-based vaccine, like Astra's), and CureVac. Interestingly, CureVac's technological approach is mRNA, like Pfizer/BNT's and Moderna's, and the EU signed a huge deal with them. But they, too, fell behind at some point. It's possible that major commitments had already been made to CureVac in Europe, besides a direct investment by the German government, just to dissuade them from selling out to Trump. However, the best way to make the right purchasing decisions is to track the progress of the projects--and not to listen to Macron.

It's pretty clear now that the EU and the Merkel Administration will overstate the efficacy and understate the adverse affects of whatever vaccine the European Medicines Agency will approve. After not buying an extra 200 million doses (500 vs. 300) from Pfizer/BNT and another 300 million from Moderna (they've meanwhile bought some, but again the problem is where you are in the queue), even at a point when those companies were the clear leaders, they've proven to be irresponsible and even immoral. So who would care about a lower efficacy of a vaccine or some adverse effects? European citizens are treated terribly by their governments. They'll do anything to cover up for their mistake. Hell is freezing over as Merkel even called Vladimir Putin these days to discuss joint vaccine manufacturing options. Her legacy will be death, disease, and economic destruction. But to the extent they can, they'll mislead people, defend indefensible decisions, and resort to inferior products.

They'll keep saying that no one could know what vaccine would become available first. But when there's a free public resource like the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker that provided all of the key facts one needed to know at any given point in time, it's clear the EU simply didn't decide based on the merits of those research projects.

They'll also keep accusing any critic of VaxGate as being a "nationalist" who didn't want a European approach. I, for my part, wouldn't care if the EU's joint-purchasing cartel--a monopsony--had benefited European citizens. Theoretically, it could have. Practically, Brussels means backroom deals and horse trades. And it means you have ruthless people like Macron abusing the system, even to the detriment of his own electorate in this case.

Throughout the year, the numbers, however, will continue to expose the impact of VaxGate. The vaccination gap between countries like the U.S., UK and Israel on the one hand, and the EU on the other hand, will widen for many months at least. The COVID-19 death count will speak a clear language (relative to population size, more people are presently dying from it in Germany than in the United States, which the mainstream media hardly ever mentions). By the end of 2021, it will be easy to see that Brussels backroom shenanigans will have killed many Europeans. And there'll be parliamentary investigations, with particularly a libertarian German party, the FDP, demanding special committees in both the German and the European Parliament.

I've been following COVID-related topics, including the vaccine situation, very closely. When you build a real-time strategy game about a virus during the coronavirus pandemic, you obviously pay more attention than otherwise.

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