The laws and customs of Vaccination – one reason why it is taking so long in Malta and elsewhere in the EU.

25 January 2021

Last March, and then throughout that spring, Europe woke up to the full pain of the pandemic. In Spain and Italy it got so bad that police were truncheoning people off the streets.

Body bags piled high and essential medical equipment, from surgical masks to ventilators, was in short supply.

Member States scrambled to purchase the equipment they needed in a competition to survive. Each country used all resources available to it and so the richer and more efficient countries got the largest chunk of medical equipment for sale.

That sort of competition is pitched at the highest stakes and causes alarm and dismay, especially in a union that was set up (in 1956) to ward off the kind of use of resources, like coal and steel, that had led to world wars and ravaged the continent.

Italy, which competed less successfully than others, decried the loss of EU solidarity at a time when it counted most. It turned to China which sent it plane loads of equipment in a gesture of international smugness and PR savvy. No, strike that, it was international solidarity.

That would have led to a summer of funerals in Bulgaria and fun in Bavaria.

Almost a year has passed and, thankfully, there is a Covid vaccine, yet all EU states are coursing through the inoculation at a far slower pace than other, non-EU countries. 

In Israel, a country with the population of Hungary, one in three people has already been vaccinated. 

That’s an inoculation rate of 33 percent. In the EU the rate is 1.4 percent. The slow rate of inoculation in the EU is caused to a certain degree by production delays and the slow pace of approval by regulators. But there are deeper reasons too: political ones.

The European Commission wanted to avoid a repeat of the spring debacle. It did not want to allow larger, richer countries to outbid the poorer ones when purchasing the vaccines. That would have led to a summer of funerals in Bulgaria and fun in Bavaria. Instead, all the vaccinations for the 450 million EU citizens are purchased centrally and distributed on a per capita basis.

Smaller countries, like Malta, receive the same amount of doses as that of a similar demographic cohort in, say, a part of Sweden. 

Had it not been for these non-compete rules that are in place in the EU at this time, it is reasonable to consider that those Swedes would be getting their jabs way, way before us.