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EU chief admits COVID vaccine blunders

February 5, 2021

Ursula von der Leyen has confessed that the EU underestimated possible complications and delays in vaccine production, but defended the bloc's joint procurement program.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
The EU has come under heavy fire for its slow vaccine roll out in comparison to some other countriesImage: Francois Walschaerts/dpa/picture alliance

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged failures in the procurement of coronavirus vaccines in an interview with German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and other foreign media on Thursday evening.

"We focussed a lot on the question of whether there would be a vaccine, on its development," the EU chief said.

"In hindsight we should have given more thought in parallel to the challenges of mass production."

Many EU countries have been under fire for their lackluster vaccination programs in comparison to countries such as Israel and the UK. The major barrier for further roll out has been a lack of doses for which many blame the EU's joint vaccine procurement program.

What could the EU have done better?

Von der Leyen admitted that the bloc could have better foreseen possible problems in vaccine production and that its failure to do so may have led to exaggerated expectations. 

"We should have told people that it is progressing, but slowly, and that this completely new process will have problems and delays," she told the press.

The EU Commission president said that the bloc was sticking with its goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer, but that there would likely be further problems and obstacles on the way.

According to figures collected by Oxford University's Our World In Data, a little over 3% of the EU population had been vaccinated by Tuesday.

How did von der Leyen defend the EU's process?

The EU chief also defended the joint procurement program, saying that the aim had been to avoid competition among the 27 member states over doses, even if that meant the process progressed slower.

"Of course, a country on its own can be a speed boat, the EU is more like a tanker," Von der Leyen said.

The EU came under fire for its hesitation to procure more vaccine doses earlier. This problem came to a head when the EU threatened to stop exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the EU to the UK over concerns that the EU was not receiving its fair share.

ab/rt (AFP, dpa)