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With COVID, Biden keeps America First stance

Dijana Roscic
Dijana Roscic
February 7, 2021

Under Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe should take its fate into its own hands. COVID-19 has made this clearer than ever before and the new US president won't make much of a difference, says Dijana Roscic.

US President-elect Joe Biden receives his second dose of a vaccine against COVID-19
Biden himself received the COVID-19 vaccine just before his inaugurationImage: Tom Brenner/REUTERS

Right now, the United States has a huge amount of the COVID-19 vaccine, perhaps too much even. As of February 3, only about 35 million of the 57.5 million doses available had been used. Half were of the all-American vaccine produced by Moderna, and half were of the vaccine mostly developed in Europe by the German startup BioNTech and the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The latter is currently being produced at three sites in the US, as well as one in Belgium.

Meanwhile the UK, having now left the European Union for good, is racing ahead with its inoculation scheme — and there seems to be no shortage of doses in that country, either. It's importing the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine from Belgium, but also has plenty of supplies of the vaccine developed by Oxford University with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has two manufacturing sites in the UK.

DW's Dijana Roscic
DW's Dijana RoscicImage: Privat

EU will see shortages for at least two more months

Citizens, journalists and politicians in Germany and the rest of the EU have been observing these developments in astonishment, asking what went wrong here. Over the past few weeks, the dissatisfaction has been fueled by increasingly bad news, particularly from vaccine manufacturers announcing delays in supplies.

The situation became so untenable that earlier this week representatives of the pharmaceutical industry met with German federal and state officials at a summit to discuss vaccine supplies and try to bring some clarity. It was a success, in the sense that we now know that Germany and the rest of Europe are facing a vaccine shortage for the next two months, at least. After the "vaccine summit," Chancellor Angela Merkel said more money would not make a difference in this area, while declaring immunization a top priority.

Merkel also offered this explanation: "The US has a war act in force on the export of vaccines, and in some cases on important supplies for vaccines. Europe has therefore been forced to rely on its production sites. Fortunately, these locations exist. But Europe does not have an infinite number of such sites."

In other words, Germany and the EU are considered to be third-class partners by its allies and friends and will be left in the lurch in these difficult times. This is a sobering assessment. Yet, it does not seem to have unleashed much response in the media.

'America First'

If Donald Trump was still US president, this outcome might have been more predictable — even palatable. But his successor Joe Biden, of whom the EU had such high expectations, is not lifting a finger to help either. He has signed an executive order upholding the ban on exporting vaccines decreed by Trump, and announced that 100 million Americans will be inoculated within his first 100 days in office. Business as usual: "America First."

Even with a Democrat in the White House, what Merkel said in May 2017 after Trump's first G7 summit as president still holds true: "The era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent. […] We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands."

What will Biden do on trade with EU?

More vaccine production in EU

For four years, most of the EU tolerated Trump and hoped at the same time that Brexit would not become a reality. But it's becoming clear, a few turbulent weeks into 2021, that Biden has not meant an automatic return to better times and the UK really is no longer part of the European Union.

If the EU actively acknowledges this, the situation can only improve. And it will improve. The Moderna vaccine will now be produced in Spain, and BioNTech-Pfizer will start producing at a new site in the German city of Marburg at the end of the month. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi will also start producing COVID-19 vaccines, as will German giant Bayer in Leverkusen. They may not have developed them, and it will take some time, but at least their doses will be for all Europeans, as well as all their global partners.

This article has been translated from German