It’s a tactic we saw over and over again during Brexit talks: when the UK found its back against the wall, British ministers resorted to convenient soundbites that played well to the home crowd but were, in fact, deeply misleading. Now, in an unexpected twist, it’s European leaders who are playing fast and loose with the truth as they face escalating pressure over the EU’s sluggish vaccine rollout.
Late last week Emmanuel Macron (pictured) told reporters that the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for anyone over the age of 65; in fact, the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine for use in all adults later that day. He also condemned the UK’s strategy of spreading out doses to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible; in fact, a new study shows that a single dose is 76 per cent effective up to 12 weeks after the shot. Meanwhile European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen this week defended the bloc’s delays by saying the EU had “agreed not to compromise with safety and efficacy requirements” when approving vaccines. The implication being, of course, that other countries had.
The problem isn’t that this kind of rhetoric is bad for diplomatic relations (though it certainly doesn’t help). The real issue is that it sows seeds of distrust in public health policies abroad and at home. How many elderly Europeans are now going to refuse the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine out of an unfounded concern that it won’t work? How many people will be tipped to the dark side of anti-vaxxer propaganda now that prominent EU leaders are falsely questioning the effectiveness of vaccines? European leaders are in a very difficult situation. But careless communication now may dramatically escalate everyone’s problems in the future.