Vaccines: A Very European Disaster

When policymakers are averse to the wrong risks.

The United States has a lot to learn from Europe’s policy successes, especially when it comes to health care. Every wealthy European nation provides universal health insurance while spending far less than we do, even though our system leaves tens of millions uninsured. And all indications are that the general quality of care is very good; on average, for example, the French can expect to live four years longer than their American counterparts.

Yet at this crucial moment in the Covid-19 saga, when new vaccines finally offer a realistic prospect of returning to normal life, policy in the European Union has been marked by one bungle after another. Jabs in arms got off to a slow start: Adjusted for population, Britain and the U.S. have administered around three times as many doses as France or Germany. And the E.U. countries are still lagging, administering vaccines less than half as rapidly as we are.

Europe’s vaccination debacle will almost surely end up causing thousands of unnecessary deaths. And the thing is, the continent’s policy bungles don’t look like isolated instances, a few bad decisions made by a few bad leaders. Instead, the failures seem to reflect fundamental flaws in the continent’s institutions and attitudes — including the same bureaucratic and intellectual rigidity that made the euro crisis a decade ago far worse than it should have been.

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