UK vaccine gambles paid off, while EU caution slowed it down

SAINT-HERBLAIN, FRANCE (AP) — French pharmaceutical start-up Valneva had big news in September: a government contract for 60 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine candidate.

The buyer? The United Kingdom (UK) — not the European Union (EU), as might be expected for a company on the banks of the Loire.

“What a true waste,” bristled President of the Pays de la Loire Regional Council Christelle Morancais as she tried to wrap her head around the missed opportunity.

The British, she told The Associated Press (AP), “rolled out the red carpet for this company, helping with financing and the set-up… And we were powerless”.

The UK has now ordered another 40 million doses and has options for more from Valneva, which has a plant in Scotland. The EU is still in talks with the company.

That pattern of Britain investing aggressively and early while the EU takes a slower, more cautious approach has been the hallmark of the vaccine race in Europe — and offers a window into problems that have dogged the vaccination rollout by the world’s biggest trading bloc.

As with other countries that moved quickly, negotiating contracts earlier has helped Britain avoid some of the vaccine supply problems the 27-nation EU has faced — as when AstraZeneca said it hit a production issue. Valneva President Franck Grimaud told the AP that Britain will receive vaccine doses earlier because it signed first.

But the UK has also shown speed and agility in other areas: Its regulatory agency has authorised vaccines more quickly than the EU’s, and its government has experimented with stretching out the time between shots — allowing it to roll out first doses faster so more people can have some protection quickly.