In virus-struck Europe, jabs trigger intense political fight

BRUSSELS (AP) — There was little effort to mask the gloating, just one month after Britain’s full — and, at times, tempestuous — divorce from the European Union (EU).

In big bold type, the vaccination table produced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative party showed that the United Kingdom (UK) had administered more jabs than the EU’s four biggest countries combined.

The implication was clear: Britain had been right to make the momentous decision of leaving the bloc.

It also indicated how, beyond the medical complexity, the humanitarian needs and the personal pain felt across the continent, the pandemic is also an intense political fight.

It’s not just the age-old acrimony between the European mainland and the UK. Germany has by far the most important election on the continent coming up in September, and there too COVID-19 is already showing its corrosive impact.

One guiding principle runs through most of the debate.

The crisis, that’s already killed well over half a million Europeans, and the solution, with vaccines far too scarce, are such that nations said: We need to take care of our own people first, whatever the consequences.

On top of that, there’s the view that the sooner people are vaccinated the faster the continent’s faltering economies can be revved up again.

“This is obviously sort of what’s being called vaccine nationalism. And you know — this is big politics,” said Director of the global health programme at the Chatham House think tank in London Robert Yates.

Compounding the political implications is the power play between strong governments and the giants of industry, in this case Big Pharma.

And from the sidelines, poor nations can only watch as rich nations go for each other’s throats.

“What’s much worse is that these squabbles between rich countries… potentially deny vaccines to people in the rest of the world,” Yates said.

Much of that political bile pools together in the small Belgian industrial town of Seneffe south of Brussels.