European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has admitted her administration made a number of errors in their handling of the supply of vaccines for the EU.
Von der Leyen was speaking yesterday in an interview with selected European media, regarding a problem in the supply of vaccines that led to the brink of a diplomatic row with the UK and legal action against one vaccine manufacturer.
The Commission took over the job of negotiating the supply of Europe’s vaccines when it became clear that smaller EU member states were at risk of being forced into second place by the negotiating power of larger countries.
But the administration underestimated the problems that might arise, von der Leyen said.
The Commission’s problems came to a head when AstraZeneca, one of the producers, said it would be unable to fulfil its first shipment to the EU completely because of production difficulties at one of its plants.
That led to a threat to check vaccine exports from the EU to ensure the company was not selling vaccines earmarked for Europe elsewhere. And when that threat seemed likely to lead to checks on the border between the Irish republic and Northern Ireland, it caused cries of alarm both inside and outside the EU.
Von der Leyen now admits the Commission failed to understand the problems involved with producing and shipping vast quantities of sensitive medical products to all corners of the continent and abroad.
“The science speeded up the industry, and that in itself is good,” she said.
“But we should have worked together more quickly on new production lines to make vaccines faster. We must be better prepared in future.”
Asked why there is now such a wide discrepancy between the levels of vaccination in the EU, where the number is about 3.2%, and the UK, where it stands at 15.5%, von der Leyen turned to a shipping metaphor.
“I am aware that a country on its own can be like a speedboat, while the European Union is more like a tanker. Of course, making a decision with 27 takes longer than if you can do it on your own. But I am deeply convinced that the European approach is the right one.”