In theory, leaving vaccine procurement to the EU made perfect sense for member nations. The bloc was surely going to have a stronger negotiating position than any individual European country. Coordination would ensure that no European country would be left behind with insufficient supplies. “We also agree that speed is of the essence in this case,” health ministers of France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands wrote to the European Commission in June, “so we deem it very useful if the commission takes the lead in this process.”
The European Commission has taken the lead, and the result is a disaster. In the best performing EU country, Denmark, 2.8 doses of the vaccine have been administered per 100 people, compared to 25 per 100 in Israel, 6.5 in the United Kingdom, and 4.4 in the United States. Germany is at 1.26 doses per 100 people and France at just 0.65 doses. (These numbers are from Bloomberg’s tracking tool and current as of this publication.)
In July, shortly after promising results of early trials started coming in, the U.S. government ordered 500 million vaccine doses from Moderna and 600 million from Pfizer/BioNTech. The EU’s aim, by contrast, was to “build a diversified portfolio of vaccines based on different technologies.” As a result, in August and October, the bloc concluded contracts with Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca—even though it was already clear that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were firmly in the lead.
Only in November did the European Commission placed a firm order for 200 million Pfizer/BioNTech doses, with an option for 100 million more. Similarly, it ordered 80 million doses from Moderna, with an option for another 80 million to be delivered at a later date. According to Der Spiegel’s report, both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna had ample spare capacity. Respectively, the two companies offered to provide the EU with 500 million and 300 million initial doses, but were turned down—notwithstanding pleading from Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn. The main reason? Reportedly, the French government intervened in favor of Sanofi, which will not produce a working vaccine until 2022.