Over the past week, the European Union under the guidance of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, has started to threaten restrictions on vaccine exports from the EU to the UK. Specifically, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, that is currently being produced in the Netherlands, and used widely across the UK.
In many ways, the issue the EU has, is a political one with the UK. The UK has managed to vaccinate around 28 million with the first dose (as the vaccine requires two doses in most cases), and over 2 million have received the second (final) dose. This means the UK is quickly approaching 50 per cent for first doses being given to the population. Unfortunately, the EU has not been as efficient and effective, with less than 15 per cent of the EU’s population vaccinated. Why this is, could be put down to the EU’s bureaucracy or logistics, as well as the limitations of production, which is still scaling up in Europe and across the world.
To make matters more complex, many EU countries decided to temporarily ban the use of AstraZeneca, after a few instances of blood clots that were later found to be correlational not causational by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). This means that the EMA found the AstraZeneca vaccine to not cause blood clots, causing EU countries that had banned the vaccine to unban it. However, the move to ban the AstraZeneca vaccine may have been political, as other medications, such as the birth control pill that many women take, have a higher chance of causing blood clots, that is actually causational as opposed to correlational like the vaccine. The increase in the chance of developing blood clots while using birth control can be up to 7.5 times more (but more often than not lower at around 3-4 times) than the normal chance of development without its use. Thrombosis UK says the blood clots are caused due to the birth control contraceptives containing oestrogen hormones, that make the blood ‘more sticky’ leading to a higher chance of developing a blood clot. This is not to say that women should not take the birth control pill, as it can have many benefits. However, the fact that EU countries have never banned the birth control pill due to its increased chance of causing blood clots, shows that the temporary ban on the vaccine was more than a cautious action done in the name of public safety, but rather a political action done to oppose the UK and Oxford-AstraZeneca.
This leaves a few questions to be answered. How will this situation effect UK-EU relations going forward? Could the UK help the EU and other areas of the world struggling to get vaccinations out quickly? And, what should be done about medication that causes an increased chance of blood clots and other significant side effects?
UK-EU relations going forward as long as the export of vaccines to the UK is not blocked or restricted, should recover in time. However, the EU must air on the side of caution in future, as the EU’s recent actions could help to spur on more anti-EU movements, similar to the movement seen in the UK with Brexit.
Moreover, the UK could help orchestrate and fund the scaling up of production in order to help the EU receive more vaccines, without taking any loss of vaccines coming into the UK. As currently AstraZeneca’s shortage to the EU is due to the UK getting in its vaccine orders first, therefore AstraZeneca has assured the UK that the order will be fulfilled completely first, putting the EU’s production behind the UK’s. If AstraZeneca could be scaled up faster however, this would greatly help fulfil both the UK and EU’s orders faster.
The EU has received criticism from previous President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, calling the EU to step down from ‘a stupid vaccine war’. Since then the UK and EU have agreed to work together on the vaccine rollout.
Ultimately, the future of UK-EU relations should be fine, so long as the EU does not do anything drastic. However, anything the UK could do to help our neighbours with vaccine production and logistics would help the post-Brexit relationship greatly. As for medication that can have serious side effects, such as the birth control pill, greater awareness for side effects must be raised, so that the women and the greater public can make more informed decisions over their health. Although, in most cases the benefits of these medications outweigh the risks.
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