A perfect AstraZeneca storm is brewing in Europe

AstraZeneca vaccine

"The fact that you made worse decisions in the past shouldn't be an excuse to make bad decisions in the present." — Sanhita Baruah, a poet and author.

How else can one process the mess now unfolding in Europe, which has already been struggling with the mission of the moment: getting COVID vaccines into arms. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, one of Europe's main lifelines, has made headlines in recent days, though it can be hard to discern "whether it's a real signal or whether it's just noise."


The backstory: The European Union has been betting on AstraZeneca to inoculate much of its population (it purchased 400 million doses) and restore normalcy. But after dozens of blood clotting events occurred in people who had received the jab, a handful of European countries moved to suspend the rollout pending an investigation by the European Medicines Agency.

Critics say that the move is an over-reaction because the cases are far below the number of clotting events that would be expected in the general population, while cautioning that coincidence and correlation are not the same thing.

Did the EU muff it — again? Brussels has already been broadly criticized for bungling its vaccine drive. But it seems not to have learnt from past mistakes, and again, has made a series of missteps in recent weeks.

Initially, some EU countries restricted the AstraZeneca jab to people under 65, citing a lack of safety and efficacy data. Some later reversed course, but the damage had been done, with many Europeans expressing hesitancy to take a vaccine first cast as of dubious quality.

And more recently, when AstraZeneca and the World Health Organization pleaded with Brussels to continue rolling out the jab, Brussels sounded the alarm, resulting in political heavyweights Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, and Norway hitting pause on vaccinations.

Sowing seeds of doubt. Many experts believe that the EMA will soon determine that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and encourage European governments to resume the rollout. But in sowing the seeds of doubt without good cause, Brussels has already deterred people in Europe — home to some of the biggest anti-vaccine communities in the world — from rolling up their sleeves. The flip-flopping and excessive caution coming out of Brussels surely won't convince more Europeans to get vaccinated and help hard-hit countries move towards herd immunity.

More crucially, the longer it takes to immunize people, the more likely that new variants develop that are more resistant to current COVID-19 vaccines, which will in turn lead to preventable deaths and deepen economic pain. Time simply isn't on the EU's side.

A combustible situation. This setback comes as many European countries are experiencing surging COVID caseloads. More than three quarters of Italians have now been ordered back into strict lockdowns as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi warns of a "new wave of contagion." Similarly, European states like France, Hungary, Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic are grappling with new waves of infection forcing new lockdowns and border closures. "Spring in the European Union is going to be dismal," one commentator recently wrote.

For months, pandemic fatigue — and the political backlash — have been slowly setting in. Germans, frustrated with a lockdown in place since last November, took their anger out at the ballot box last weekend by giving Angela Merkel's CDU party its lowest vote percentages in decades in two state elections.

Spreading fear abroad. But the effects of the European fiasco resonate far beyond the continent. The COVAX facility has banked its success on the AstraZeneca jab, which is cheaper and easier to store than other vaccines on the market. Many low and middle-income countries participating in the COVAX scheme don't have the luxury of pausing rollouts and changing tack midway. It's for this reason that the World Health Organization cautioned the EU to reassure its residents rather than rile them up.

EU shame: As Brussels lags behind, EU countries are increasingly buying jabs from China and Russia to make up the difference, and turning to Israel for help in managing vaccine distribution. For now, the EU's embarrassing missteps continue, costing precious time — and precious lives.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

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It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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