European Union criticized for slow vaccine rollout as countries tighten restrictions once again

A nurse prepares a syringe of Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign in a nursing house in Athens.


The European Union has been criticised for the speed of its deployment of Covid vaccines, as its two biggest economies extend their coronavirus restrictions due to worrying case numbers.

A number of European officials have voiced their concerns about the bloc’s vaccination plans over the last few days and have asked the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, to explain why it has not bought more jabs.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, there have been more than 17 million reported cases of the coronavirus in the region (including the U.K.) to date.

“It is difficult to explain that a very good vaccine is developed in Germany but is vaccinated more quickly elsewhere,” Markus Söder, the leader of the German region of Bavaria, said in an interview over the weekend, according to Politico. German company BioNTech has, together with Pfizer, developed one of the frontrunner Covid vaccines.

The European Union began its vaccination program in late December, after the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. Despite being developed in Germany, however, the jab received approval in the U.K. and the United States well before it was greenlit by the European authorities.

Uğur Şahin, chief executive of BioNTech, also told the German press over the weekend that “the process in Europe certainly wasn’t as fast and straightforward as in other countries.”

The U.K. has, in the meantime, approved two other vaccines, but the European Medicines Agency has not yet ruled on either AstraZeneca or Moderna’s offerings.

In addition to concerns over timings, there are also questions about whether enough vaccines have been purchased by the EU.

“The (European) Commission must rise to the occasion. To this end, how will the EU make up for the lack of purchased dosses in the Union?” Luis Garicano, a European lawmaker, wrote in a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the weekend.

The European Commission has signed six contracts with vaccine-makers on behalf of European countries. Each EU nation will receive the vaccines at the same time and distribution will be on a per-capita basis.

Among these contracts, the EU agreed to buy 200 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine with the option to purchase 100 million additional doses. The Commission also agreed to buy 300 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca, with the option to buy 100 million more. Its contract with Moderna agrees to a purchase of 80 million doses, plus an option to buy up to 80 million more.

There are more than 447 million citizens living in the 27 EU countries, according to the region’s statistical office. 

“Israel, a nation with just 1/50th of population of the EU, has vaccinated more of its citizens than all EU member states combined. Madame President, how is that possible?” Garicano asked in his letter to von der Leyen.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said on Monday that the institution was “very much focused on ensuring that the implementation of our strategy is done, is done well.”

“The commission has very, very early on understood that both the acquisition of vaccines and the vaccination process would be major endeavours for the European Union,” the spokesperson told reporters virtually.

France, one of the most vaccine-sceptical nations in the EU, announced last week that it was stepping up its vaccination process. The country is also revising curfew hours in the worst-hit regions in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Germany, where a national lockdown has been in place since late November, is due to extend this emergency measure until the end of the month.

Visitors queue outside a Covid-19 vaccination site at Berlin Arena in Berlin, Germany.

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