A Butcher’s Bill for EU

A Butcher’s Bill for EU

On Thursday morning the number of “EU Citizens” who have been killed by COVID, based on current official counts, stood at 500,809. It has broken the big half-million.

The death rate in the EU-27 has been constant at between 3000 and 3500 per day for three months now. Half of EU deaths from COVID have occurred since November 26th, at a rate of one hundred thousand per month. The rate is startlingly consistent, and has finally dropped below 3000 this weekend.

Due to the work of the Vaccine Task Force and others, the UK has a reasonable hope of choking off the second wave of COVID through vaccination. The vaccine supply for this country is already sufficient to treat everyone by some point in June. We may prevent a big third wave, if current vaccines provide effective protection and we have a programme of boosters in the autumn.

The EU situation is less hopeful. According to a recent speech by Ursula von der Leyen, the EU-27 have locked in just under 100m vaccine doses for delivery by the end of March, and 400m in total by the end of June:

“We will have in the first quarter, around about 100 million doses that have been delivered; it’s 18 million in January; 33 million in February, and 55 million in March,” she said. “This is not enough but we are aiming at 300 (million) at least in the second quarter.”

For an EU-27 population of 447 million, that is coverage of under 12% for two vaccines each, or 24% for one vaccine each (whole population basis). In the EU population almost 6% are over 80, and over 20% are over 65, aside from clinically vulnerable younger individuals.

In the UK, groups 1-9 of ‘vulnerables and care-staff’ comprise 32 million people – 40% of the whole population. The target date for vaccination of all of these is “April”.

For the EU-27 to reach 40% or 180 million people needs 180 or 360 million doses, depending on vaccination policy. I make that a best case ‘finished’ between June and late-July at best before vaccination of this group may be achieved, with a fair wind, on current policy.

At present the EC are playing ‘steady as she goes’ music with an ambitious target to vaccinate 70% of adults by summer. New variants of the Covid virus are still to fully hit the EU-27, there is still hesitancy around vaccines, and vaccination priority policies are variable.

That 2-4 month best case delay behind the UK vaccination programme is the delay created when officials were focusing on trading for vaccines, stopping countries doing their own thing, and creating an exhibition of Commission excellence, rather than on building factories and creating supply chains.

It looks sticky. There will be a cost in lives, and we can all do the maths. So what can be done?

Comparing different countries, it stands out that no one has done everything well. Germany did well in Wave 1 (9k deaths up to August), but has had 500% more since then. Poland has had twenty times as many deaths in Wave 2. All the other major Western European nations did badly in Wave 1. Equally there are aspects the UK had wrong, such as travel restrictions. We had others that went well, such as a quick response by politicians setting the vaccine programme goal, then keeping out.

Getting stuck in “UK disaster” or “EC sclerosis” narratives is not the correct focus for anyone.

The UK is now possibly on the way out of this. The EU may still have a torrid time ahead for the spring and summer. Will lessons to slow that 100k per month death-rate down be learnt in time to make a difference?

Matt Wardman

Matt Wardman posts on PB at MattW and this is his debut piece

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