British leaders are injecting the country with a strong dose of Brexit euphoria ahead of the first rollout of a Covid vaccine next week. That Britain is the first country to begin inoculation with the Pfizer vaccine is a result of Brexit, ministers have been claiming—somewhat dubiously and in fact entirely erroneously.
Health secretary Matt Hancock made a grand announcement Thursday this week that Britain had beaten the European Union to an inoculation programme thanks to Brexit. He told Times Radio: "We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they're done because of Brexit."
As it happens, Brexit arrangements only kick in on January 1, 2121. And Britain fast-tracked the vaccine rollout in fact under EU laws. These give a member country a free hand to introduce urgent medication or vaccination without EU-level approval. Hungary informed the European Union a month back it may use the Russian vaccine, and it has the right to do so under the same EU laws that apply currently to Britain.
The chief executive of Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Dr June Raine confirmed that "we have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until 1 January." That does mean that Britain currently has a health minister who does not appear to be mindful when Brexit will happen, and who does not know under what regulations his department has taken amongst the most momentous decisions in healthcare.
The European Union has a more exhaustive regulatory system that requires a wider body of evidence, and is due to take a decision on the Pfizer vaccine at a meeting due December 29. The US regulator will decide at a meeting December 10.
European leaders have not hesitated to point out the British leaders' gaffe. Germany's health minister Jens Spahn pointed out at a virtual media briefing that "we have member states, including Germany, who could have issued such an emergency authorisation if we'd wanted to. But we decided against this and what we opted for was a common European approach to move forward together.
He remarked, gently, that the Pfizer vaccine the British are preparing to administer has been developed and produced by Pfizer in partnership with BioNtech, a German company. And the vaccine is being produced in Belgium, which is home to most EU institutions and departments.
Education minister Gavin Williamson stepped in with an interpretation of his own that informs the Brexit euphoria - among those who believe it will be a good thing. He said Britain was getting the vaccine first because it is a “much better country” than Germany, France or the US.
He told the local LBC Radio: "I just reckon we've got the very best people in this country and we've obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn't surprise me at all, because we're a much better country than every single one of them."
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer responded to that. He said British regulators are undoubtedly good but "we are definitely not in the game of comparing regulators across countries, nor on commenting on claims as to who is better. This is not a football competition, we are talking about the life and health of people."
In Britain, former Scotland secretary Michael Forsyth said Gavinson’s remarks were “just unseemly”. He tweeted that it was “disappointing to see some folk trying to make political capital out of the brilliant vaccine news.” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan described Gavinson’s remarks as “jingoistic nonsense.”
Former Conservative foreign minister Alistair Burt said: “To use the vaccine and the pandemic for boastful and questionable Brexit jibes devalues a remarkable international achievement with crass insensitivity.” He said the remarks were “even more foolish” considering Britain’s position in the international vaccine alliance.
(Edited by : Jomy, Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: IST