Chief Eurocrat Admits EU Made Mistakes that Resulted in Vaccine Fiasco

President of European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen (L) gives a press conference after EU leaders' video conference on COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the European Council building in Brussels, on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Aris Oikonomou / AFP) (Photo by ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP via Getty Images)
ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP via Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has admitted that the European Union was at fault for the delays to rolling out vaccines to European citizens, after last week acknowledging that countries acting alone, like Britain, are “speedboats” compared to the EU.

In her public admission of the EU’s faulty coronavirus vaccine strategy, where Brussels demanded to be in charge of procurement for the whole bloc, Mrs von der Leyen told the European Parliament on Wednesday that “today we are not where we want to be in combating the virus.

“We were late in granting authorisation. We were too optimistic about mass production. And maybe we also took for granted that the doses ordered would actually arrive on time. We must ask ourselves why, and what lessons we can draw from it.”

However, the chief eurocrat stood by the EU plan — saying that “it was right – and is right – that we Europeans ordered our vaccine jointly” — and implied that while all Europeans would be receiving their vaccines later than many other countries around the world, they would at least be vaccinated later, together, “in a spirit of solidarity”.

Commission President von der Leyen also displayed a lack of faith in the generosity of member states, suggesting that some would hoard their doses in their event of vaccine success whilst others failed.

“I don’t even want to imagine what it would have meant if some large Member States had secured the vaccine while the rest went empty-handed. What would that have meant for our internal market, and for European unity? It would have made no economic sense. And it would have meant the end of our Community,” she said.

Reports from last summer, however, contradict the notion that the richer nations sourcing their own contracts would leave their neighbours high and dry.

The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and France, forming the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), had made a preliminary agreement on a vaccine production deal with AstraZeneca in June, with the company’s CEO Pascal Soriot telling journalists at the time that the four leading nations of the bloc would “work together with the European Commission and other countries in Europe to ensure everybody across Europe is supplied with the vaccine”.

Further, a source from Italy’s health department told Reuters at the time that not only would the doses be available for all EU member states who are able to join the scheme, but that the four countries would front the initial costs. AstraZeneca has also maintained that it is not making a profit from coronavirus vaccines.

Later reports revealed that the process began to fall apart when the European Commission demanded to take over the procurement from the IVA. It took another two months for the bloc to agree on a deal with the drugs company, despite the contract details being of “no material change[]” to the terms agreed with the IVA. This delay had a knock-on effect on establishing lines of production in Europe.

May’s contract with the UK resulted in Britain having the highest yields in AstraZeneca’s network by January. While the EU, whose agreement was only made in August, had the worst.

The UK, for its part, has said in recent weeks amidst its vaccine success said it would help other EU nations including Ireland by donating its surplus, making the offer once it became apparent that Britain was on track with its vaccine programme and Europe was suffering shortfalls as a result of Brussels’ bureaucracy.

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