European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has acknowledged failings in the EU’s approval and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines

Ursula von der Leyen pulls a blue face mask with the EU symbol on it across her mouth.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has acknowledged failings in the EU’s approval and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

Key points:

  • Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was “not where it wanted to be” in the fight against coronavirus
  • She said the EU was late with vaccine approval and too optimistic about mass production
  • But she defended the Commission’s oversight of vaccine orders

She was speaking to MEPs in the European Parliament following criticism of the slow rollout of vaccines and a plan to curb exports that initially sought to set up a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, causing an outcry in London and Dublin.

Ms von der Leyen said 26 million vaccine doses had been delivered and that, by the end of the northern summer, 70 per cent of adults in the 27-nation bloc should have been inoculated.

“And yet it is a fact that we are not today where we want to be in the fight against the virus,” she said.

“We were late with the approval. We were too optimistic on mass production. And perhaps we were also too certain that the orders would actually be delivered on time.”

Professor Luke O’Neill, from Trinity College Dublin, told the ABC the vaccine rollout across the bloc had turned into a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

Ms von der Leyen also said mistakes were made leading up to the decision on export curbs.

The EU introduced new rules on exports of COVID-19 vaccines produced within the bloc last month, raising questions over the supply of the 20 million Pfizer vaccine doses ordered by Australia.

On Tuesday the EU’s ambassador to Australia, Michael Pulch, insisted the first Pfizer doses bound for Australia would not be blocked.

“Australia can indeed rely on deliveries from Europe,” he said.

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EU ambassador says Australia can rely on vaccine delivery from Europe

Dr Pulch said the new rules introduced by the EU were not export bans but measures to increase “transparency”.

The export curbs also impacted Ireland, with the EU rapidly reversing plans earlier this month to set up controls between EU member state Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland.

The EU’s plans to invoke Article 16 — a safeguard measure which would allow either the EU or UK to suspend certain provisions of the Brexit Protocol — lead to scathing criticism from the British and Irish press.

“I deeply regret that,” Ms von der Leyen said, adding that the Commission would do its utmost to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

Avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is seen as key to protecting the peace process there.

However, Ms von der Leyen defended the Commission’s oversight of vaccine orders, saying it would have been unfair and “economic madness” for the EU single market if just a few large member states had guaranteed doses.

The EU could not cut corners in its approval of biological substances injected into people’s bodies, even if this lost three to four weeks to rivals, she added.

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