EU over-optimistic on vaccine roll-out

·2-min read

The European Union's much-criticised vaccine rollout could partly be blamed on the bloc being over-optimistic, over-confident and plainly "late", European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says.

The commission chief defended the EU's overall approach of trying to beat the pandemic with a unified vaccine plan for its 27 nations, even as she admitted mistakes in the strategy to quickly obtain sufficient vaccines for its 447 million citizens.

"We are still not where we want to be. We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production and perhaps we were too confident that, what we ordered, would actually be delivered on time," Ms von der Leyen told the EU plenary session on Wednesday.

Despite weeks of stinging criticism as the EU's vaccine campaign failed to gain momentum compared to Britain, Israel and the United States, the three main parties in the legislature stuck with von der Leyen's approach of moving forward with all member states together.

"The key decisions were right," Manfred Weber, leader of the Christian Democrat European People's Party, said.

The Socialists and Democrats party leader Iratxe Garcia said: "Fiasco, catastrophe, disaster: they ring very true to our citizens."

But she added that her party would stick with von der Leyen on the bloc moving together.

"Criticism is necessary but with a constructive spirit," she said.

Von der Leyen's assessment came as the bloc's death toll passed 500,000, a statistic that fundamentally challenges the EU's vaunted welfare standards and healthcare capabilities.

It comes as the bloc is fighting off the remnants of a second surge of Covid-19 that has kept communities from Portugal to Finland under all kinds of lockdown, curfews and restrictions as authorities race to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Von der Leyen stuck with her promise to have 70 per cent of the EU's adult population vaccinated by the end of summer and blamed big pharmaceutical companies for not keeping vaccine production up with scientific advances.

"Indeed, industry has to match the groundbreaking pace of science," she said.

"We fully understand that difficulties will arise in the mass production of vaccines. But Europe has invested billions of euros in capacities in advance, and we urged the member states to plan the vaccine rollout. So now we all need predictability."