Opinion | Vaccines: A Very European Disaster


Europe also has other problems. Vaccination was delayed by attempts to pursue a common European policy, which would be OK if Europe had anything resembling a unified government. But it doesn’t; instead, national governments held back on drug contracts while waiting for consensus.

Furthermore, purchasing vaccines isn’t the end of the story; you also have to get them in people’s arms. And there’s nothing in Europe comparable to the national distribution and vaccination push that has rapidly gained momentum since the Biden administration came to power.

Finally, Europe turns out to have a problem with widespread hostility to science. Of course, so do we — but theirs is different, in ways that are doing a lot of harm.

In America, most — although by no means all — hostility to science comes from the right, especially the religious right. We’re a nation full of anti-evolutionists, climate change deniers and, more recently, Covid deniers — forms of science denial that are much less common in Europe. But other anti-scientific attitudes, less easily placed on a left-right spectrum, are distressingly widespread.

Reluctance to take a Covid-19 vaccine, even if available, is hardly unknown here, but anti-vaccine sentiment appears to be alarmingly broad in Europe, especially in France.

All of these problems came to a head this week, when a number of European nations suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine based on probably spurious hints that some recipients may experience blood clots. Again, policymakers were obsessed with the wrong risks — even if there are adverse side effects, they surely pale in comparison with the damage to the inoculation drive. And again Europe failed to coordinate: Germany suspended AstraZeneca, and others rushed to follow out of fear that they would be blamed if anything went wrong (other than people dying because they didn’t get their shots).

As I said, the most disturbing thing about this whole fiasco is that it can’t be blamed merely on a few bad leaders. Instead, it seems to reflect fundamental flaws in institutions and attitudes. The European project is in deep trouble.

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