23rd Apr 2021


The Left: No more 'sorry', we want vaccine-fiasco inquiry

  • Between 2011 and 2018 the Commission made 63 individual demands to member states to cut on healthcare spending and/or privatise or outsource healthcare services (Photo: Helena Malikova)

The time for apologies is over. EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's admission that errors were committed in the rollout of vaccines has not allayed widespread popular anger at the EU's botched strategy.

We need accountability. We need it now.

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The European Parliament must establish a committee of inquiry to get to the bottom of how this disaster happened and hold those responsible to account.

The need to investigate gets more urgent by the day. In recent weeks, several EU countries suspended the use of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines out of precaution, until enough is known about reported side effects.

This comes at a time when the Commission is at loggerheads with the company over a massive shortfall in supplies.

The European Commission has refused to release the full contracts it has signed with the pharmaceutical companies. But one thing we know: it has given Big Pharma a free hand to do as it wishes, refusing to lift patents and releasing companies from liability arising from supply delays or safety issues.

How come member states and the European Commission were able to impose unprecedented limits on our freedoms but have been unable to rein in on pharmaceutical companies?

Last May, the commission president chaired a Coronavirus Global Response pledging event, raising billions for vaccines, diagnosis and treatments.

At the time, von der Leyen said that the drive would "create a truly unique, global public good". Back then the world was experiencing the first wave of the pandemic, billions of euros were being pumped into research. There was hope.

We were sceptical, maintaining pressure on the commission, knowing well its track record of reneging on promises.

We knew that when push comes to shove, neoliberal dogmas and the profits of multinationals take precedence over the rights of EU citizens.

Between 2011 and 2018 the commission made 63 individual demands to member states to cut on healthcare spending and/or privatise or outsource healthcare services.

The commission's obsession with austerity cuts and its demands for the shrinking of public services, working hand-in-glove with private lobbies, have arguably contributed to the immense pressure hospitals are under now.

In the first half of September, the commission had already signed its first vaccine supply contract with AstraZeneca, and had concluded negotiations with five other manufacturers as clinical trials were still underway.

We saw then the first signs of hoarding by rich countries, ordering way more vaccines than they needed. Long-forgotten was von der Leyen's promise of a Covid-19 vaccine as a global public good.

Pharmaceutical companies saw their market value soar with news of the signing of the contracts. Many went on to declare record profits.

Big Pharma

In effect, the commission put Big Pharma in the driving seat for the pandemic response, relinquishing authority to them, and gambling peoples' lives on their ability to deliver safe vaccines for everyone in a timely manner. That never happened.

After the billions in public money were poured into research and development, it became imperative to waive patents to allow for mass vaccine production and vaccine equality.

Instead, the EU has done the exact opposite. Together with other rich countries, it has continued to block the lifting of Intellectual Property Rights in the World Trade Organization.

Ordinary people are now paying the price. Under a heavy mental health toll, families are mourning their loved ones and worrying about the safety of those still here. Small businesses are barely surviving. People's livelihoods are under threat. Poverty and inequality continue to grow.

As EU leaders gear up to debate the Future of Europe, the need for more democracy in the EU and so-called European values, we cannot let them shirk their responsibilities or this will all be empty talk.

The EU's actions on vaccines will shape the future of public health in Europe, we cannot let the Commission wash its hands of a tragedy of historic proportions.

The Left won't let this pass. The European Parliament must establish a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the Commission for illegal conduct, maladministration and negligence, and to make sure these mistakes don't happen again. Apologies are not enough. Accountability cannot wait any longer.

Author bio

Manon Aubry and Martin Schirdewan are MEPs and co-presidents of the Left group in the European Parliament.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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